'I don't know what I've done
Or if I like what I've begun
But something told me to run
And honey, you know me
It's all, or none
There were sounds in my head
A little voice is whispering
That I should go, and this should end
Oh and I found myself listening'
"Where I Stood" - Missy Higgins
Chapter One: What I Wanted To Say //I should have done something. Again I did nothing. Watched us separate.\\
"I love you, too..."
Naomi's not really sure where those words come from, or how they even managed to sneak their way up her throat and out between her lips; love isn't a feeling she's used to contemplating at all.
It startles her so much—hearing her own voice coming out so quiet and unsure—that she retreats back into silence immediately; leaves this foreign emotion hanging over them like a dark cloud just waiting to burst.
She can't bear to look at Emily, doesn't actually have to look to know that she's probably got a ridiculously sappy grin on her face, but still hears her alarmingly confident reply of "I know" seconds later.
It stops her heart dead and makes it quicken unnaturally all at the same time; wave after wave of panic and fear beginning to sink deep into her skin.
Her head begins to throb as they walk hand-in-hand away from the Love Ball and towards her house, with one thought alone looping repeatedly through the thick fog in her mind - How could Emily possibly have known? - when it's all come as such a terrifying shock to her?
Naomi holds her breath when Emily tightens her hold on her hand; tilts her head back to look up at the midnight sky and inevitably waits for the rain to fall down around them.
Emily barely waits until the bedroom door is shut before reaching out to trace her fingers over the stark red hand-print on Naomi's cheek. She brushes the back of her knuckles over Naomi's soft skin before carefully running the pad of her thumb over her rosy bottom lip.
She smiles beautifully as her eyes lift up to meet blue ones, says, "God, I love you so fucking much, Naomi."
Naomi's pretty sure it's not supposed to feel this way - like something is crushing her chest, squeezing all of the air out of her lungs and leaving her with no escape - but the feeling's enough to make her turn away from Emily's unrelenting gaze and bite down hard on the inside of her cheek to keep herself from crying.
This wasn't meant to happen, none of it was.
Emily pushes herself up onto her toes, presses several fleeting kisses along Naomi's jaw, stopping at the space just below her ear to whisper "It's okay" before cupping her face and bringing their lips together for a proper kiss, slow and deep.
It makes Naomi's breath catch (too much, it's all too much), makes her choke out a sob, only to be shushed by Emily's mouth and Emily's touch, by small delicate hands gently stripping her from her clothing and guiding her to the bed.
She keeps her eyes tightly closed as Emily hovers above her, eager kisses and loving caresses are doled out willingly to every inch of her skin until she can no longer stop herself coming undone at Emily's command.
She tries to push the fear to the back of her mind as her own hand slips between Emily's thighs. Her teeth sink down, biting into the sweet, delicate skin of Emily's neck - its proof, Naomi thinks, as Emily moans out her name, proof that this means just as much to me as it does to Emily.
Only later, as she watches Emily curl up against her side, content smile plastered across her lips as she sleeps, does Naomi let her eyes take in the sight of the angry dark-red mark; wonders who exactly she's really trying to prove it too.
She doesn't want to think about it.
Closes her eyes and falls into a restless sleep.
She wakes from sleep gradually, feels Emily's fingertips trace a faint pathway up and down her arm long before she forces her eyes open.
Gentle brown eyes and a small, slightly hesitant smile greet her when her vision finally focuses. "Hey."
Naomi's not sure whether or not she should be pleased that whatever confidence Emily seemed to have had the previous night has dwindled slightly, leaving her with the familiar uncertain girl she's gotten to know.
"Morning." Her voice comes out a little shaky, but she hopes Emily will merely think it hoarse and unused due to sleep and not because waking up with someone - with Emily - terrifies her completely.
She tries not to flinch when Emily's hand slides up her arm, across her shoulder and settles against her neck, her thumb brushing back and forth against the bed-warm skin. She watches as Emily shifts in a little closer and nuzzles the tips of their noses together.
"You're okay, right?" Emily asks cautiously, tilting her head back to find blue eyes. "With everything now, I mean? I know it's a lot but..." Naomi can only nod her head once as Emily trails off, seems to stumble back into her own jungle of insecurity before continuing in an almost whisper, "You said you loved me, Naomi."
It's the look of absolute need and hope on Emily's innocent face that makes her swallow down the lump lodged in her throat and search for her voice. "I did," she responds, adding in a smile for good measure; only relaxes when Emily grins back.
Emily closes the space between them, kisses her softly; her eyes pleading when she presses, "Say it again, please."
Naomi knows it's probably foolish, the way that she's suppressing the screaming inside of her head telling her not to repeat what was spoken without thought or consent, but she doesn't want to be the one to take away the look of complete and utter happiness on Emily's face as she waits to hear those three words fall from her lips.
She knows she's already been the cause of so much of Emily's unhappiness, has seen the way that Emily's face can fall and crumble in an instant just because of her far too many times this year alone; can't stand the thought of doing it to her again so soon.
Instead she does what she's asked; murmurs, "I love you, Ems." and watches for the first time the way that she can make Emily's face light up beautifully without really having to try.
Naomi's well aware that she's let herself get caught up, and lost, in this momentary madness that perhaps this can all be some kind of romantic fairytale with the perfect ending, knows that she's given in and allowed Emily take from her whatever she wants and now can't possibly ask for it back. She just hopes that she'll be able find and share that unrelenting belief Emily has in this - them - soon before it's too late.
She's doesn't remember much of their summer, sees it in flashes whenever she tries to recall it:
Her mum: annoyingly ecstatic about their relationship.
Emily: forcing a hideous truce between her and Katie.
Sneaking Emily out from under the watchful eye of her mother to spend just a few moments together.
Long, hot days by the lake - or their lake, as Emily likes to remind her every time they go - whenever they manage to get a few hours to themselves.
Making love and spending hours lounging in her bed; talking endlessly as they aimlessly touch bare skin.
The one thing that Naomi never has trouble recalling and can always distinctly remember about their summer:
Having to constantly crush that burning sensation that fuels her legs with the urge to break away and run without ever looking back.
For the first time in years, the thought of returning to school - college, now that they're older - unsettles her completely, leaves her with that sickening feeling of butterflies in her stomach. It only makes Naomi feel worse, when she opens her front door to see Emily waiting for her at the end of the driveway, all bright-eyed and cheerful.
Naomi flashes a quick smile before turning and locking the front door. She uses those few seconds to steady her nerves, breathes in and out deeply as she slips back into the role she's become accustomed to playing over the summer. Only then does she close the distance between them and let Emily entwine their fingers as they begin to walk.
Emily chatters away as they begin their journey but Naomi feels like she barely hears a word of it; is far too busy listening to the way her blood pounds heavily in her ears with each step nearer to the college that they get--each slap of their feet against the ground sounding horribly like she's being marched off towards a death sentence.
It starts as soon as they reach the entrance to the college. Her skin prickles out of nowhere as Emily uses her free hand to point out their group of friends - friends that they haven't seen since before everything changed, before she and Emily became Naomi and Emily – and then feels herself getting dragged in their direction before she can even think to stop it.
The prickling only intensifies as they make their way to the group, makes a chilling shiver jolt up her spine as Emily greets everyone in her usual cheery manner. She nods her head in a way of hello, and quickly drops her eyes to the floor, can't stand the way that they all immediately look down at their joined hands.
"Naomikins, I heard that you were into tits and muff now," Cook's voice booms. It seems louder than Naomi remembers as she shifts her gaze up to meet his; watches as he exhales a train of smoke into the air before grinning at her smugly. "Finally have an explanation as to why you wouldn't willy-waggle with the Cookie monster."
Usually Naomi feels like she can take Cook's teasing, but it feels different now; she can't defend herself from something that's supposed to be true. Her mouth is suddenly, unnaturally dry and no sarcastic remarks will come to her.
It makes her think of drowning.
"Don't be a cunt, Cook," Effy's voice comes out bored as always. "Not everyone wants to fuck you."
She barely catches the small smile that Effy throws in her direction before Cook breaks out into his ludicrous laugh. "Fucking funny babe, but not true," he says, swaggering towards her, arms held out, "Everyone wants a piece of Cook... including you."
Freddie is swift to drape his arm around Effy's shoulders; glares in Cook's direction warningly, "Leave it alone, mate."
"Fucking shit this. All this relationships, and love bollocks..." Cook turns his attention back at her and Emily. "Even the lesbian duo here aren't providing me with a good show," he continues, waggling his eyebrows sleazily. "Fancy giving the Cookie monster a private viewing later?"
It erupts out of nowhere, the way that Naomi's skin feels like its burst into flames, physically scalding her and leaving behind ugly red raw marks. Her chest feels tight, so tight, that her ears are ringing painfully loud; she's sweltering under the pressure.
It's that awful, heated realisation that for the first time ever she actually cares what they all think about her.
Naomi doesn't think about what happens next, it comes to her like a reflex, the way that she pulls her hand away from Emily's grasp rather abruptly; shaking her head and trying to catch her breath as she takes a few steps back.
She feels it more than she sees it, the way that they're all looking at her-- in judgment, she notes, feeling sick.
It only takes a split second for her to realise that she's suffocating.
"Naomi..." Emily's voice is laced with concern as her brown eyes connect with blue.
She sees Emily take a step to reach for her and shakes her head violently. "Don't, I'm fine... I just have to go. I'll catch up with you later."
She closes her eyes as she turns away from them and hurriedly makes her retreat into the college; finally feeling safe and able to breathe.
Naomi tries her hardest to ignore the blatant hurt she saw flash across Emily's face; hates how it's etched painfully into her memory for the rest of the day.
Emily goes straight home after college without seeking her out to say goodbye.
It's the first sign of the storm, Naomi realises, the one that she's been expecting to see all summer.
Naomi doesn't know how to put it into words, that something about them isn't right.
Doesn't think Emily would hear her even if she could communicate her worries.
In the end, she chooses not to say anything at all.
The storm only worsens as the year continues.
"I don't see why you need me to be there Emily; it'll only make things worse."
Emily paces back and forth in front of her bed, throws her hands up into the air and scoffs, turns to Naomi with anger in her eyes. "You don't see why I need you there? Are you fucking kidding me?"
"Your mum hates me, Em." Naomi calmly states, crushing her cigarette out in the ashtray resting on her nightstand. "She's already blamed me for you being gay once before, and told me to disappear if I remember correctly." She rolls her eyes, much to Emily's annoyance, before continuing, "You can't honestly think that me being there when you tell them about us is going to make things easier for her to deal with?"
Emily looks at her with a mixture of disappointment and disbelief. "And what about me, Naomi? What if I need you there to make things easier for me?"
It still comes as a shock to Naomi sometimes, to realise that by allowing them to actually happen, she's somehow become responsible for someone else's feelings. It's a job she's still not sure she's ready for.
"Trust me. It's for the best that I'm not there, Emily. I'd only go and say something to make it harder for them to accept." She ignores the way brown eyes glass over with unshed tears, looks down at her watch instead. "You should go. It's almost six."
Emily lets out a heavy sigh before scooping up her bag; stopping to look back at Naomi from the doorway, "Together--that's what us being in love is supposed to be all about," she watches as Emily shakes her head tiredly before letting out a breath of defeat. "I guess I'll call you tomorrow and let you know how they take it all."
Naomi closes her eyes as the door slams shut, let's herself fall back onto the bed and stares at the ceiling; hopes that eventually things will become easier for her.
Naomi takes a careful sip of her tea, mindful not to burn her lip; keeps her eyes trained on the newspaper she's reading even as Emily dramatically stirs another loud teaspoon of sugar into her own cup.
It's been tense between them for well over two weeks, and some part of her wants Emily to just say what it is that she's done to bother her so that she can stop feeling like she's constantly on the edge of a cliff just waiting to slip off.
Emily lets out a heavy breath and pushes back her chair; lets it make that awful screeching sound as she stands from the table, snatching Naomi's pack of cigarettes off the kitchen counter before slumping back down into her seat.
It's the click of the lighter that finally draws Naomi's eyes up from the newspaper to meet Emily's grumpy gaze. "What's up, Ems?"
Emily takes a drag of her cigarette and shrugs her shoulders as she exhales the smoke. "I don't know, why don't you tell me?"
Naomi feels irritation flash within her; scowls in response. "Don't start, Emily; either tell me what's bothering you or let it go."
Emily stubs her cigarette out with force, purses her lips together as she leans back in her chair with her arms crossed over her chest. "Were you ever going to tell me that you've already sent off your applications for university?"
Naomi lets out a sigh. "Of course I was but, Em, everyone is sending their applications off. It's not like it's some kind of evil secret I'm keeping to myself."
It surprises her when Emily breaks out into a short, harsh laugh. "So why did I have to hear about it from Panda?"
Naomi doesn't know how to answer that, doesn't understand why she needs too; stays silent instead. Sees disappointment flash in brown eyes a second later when Emily continues, "You still don't get it do you?"
Naomi raises her eyebrows. "Get what? I have absolutely no fucking idea what you're talking about here, Emily."
Emily's lips twist into a sad frown; waves her hand dismissively. "Just forget about it."
Naomi's not sure why it infuriates her when Emily seems to give up, knows that she's not the easiest person to talk to about anything really, but can't stand another moment of the heavy silences that has been lingering between them. "No, you want to talk, so talk. Tell me what I don't get?"
Emily stands unexpectedly, glares down at her. "That we're a fucking couple, Naomi." Naomi attempts a response, but can't; it's still rather shocking for her to see Emily like this, exploding with rage. Makes her think back to that night of the Love Ball, when she'd watched Emily fight with Katie and come out on top. "That you're not just you anymore. That what you choose to do affects me, too."
Emily holds her hand up, effectively quieting whatever Naomi has to say. "No. Just don't, okay?" She lets out a shaky breath before looking back down at her. "It never even occurred to you to talk to me about this, did it? Don't you think that we should have looked at universities we could have gone to together? What happens in the next few years affects what happens to us, Naomi."
"I know that but..."
She knows that this is her chance to say every single doubt that she's ever had about them, to talk to Emily about this like adults, yet Naomi can't help but feel angry, slightly resentful at Emily for putting her in this position where she has to explain herself in the first place.
Naomi pushes herself up from her seat until they're level and staring right at each other. "You can't keep following me wherever I go, Emily. We're eighteen, for fuck's sake. We've got our own lives to live- our own paths to follow."
She barely has time to register the look of hurt in Emily's eyes before the flash of anger returns. "Well, if that's how you truly feel about us..." Emily says sharply, tugging on her jacket in one smooth motion, "I guess I should apologise for loving you. For making you a priority in my life." She snatches her bag from the table, throws it over her shoulder and heads towards the door, stops herself before leaving to add, "But, most of all, I guess that I should be sorry that I care about what happens to us when you so obviously don't."
Emily waits a few seconds for Naomi to say something, and when she doesn't, she storms off out of the door, slamming it behind her as she goes.
Naomi slumps back down into her seat, lights up a cigarette and runs a hand carelessly over her face and through her hair, letting out a tired sigh.
She knows deep down that she should compromise—sometimes even thinks she wants to—but how could she possibly compromise on who she is and what she wants when even she doesn't know for certain what that is yet?
They don't talk for days after the argument.
When Emily finally approaches her, and it's always Emily who makes the first move, never Naomi, they don't talk about what will happen to them over the next couple of months; instead, they go about pretending everything is perfect.
If only life were that simple.
Its months later when Emily finally brings it up again one day out of the blue—exam results received, and decisions already made—laying in bed after a languid afternoon of love making.
"You're going to UCL." Emily drops it into the silence of the room; her lips brushing the words against the skin of Naomi's neck.
It's silent for a few long minutes before Naomi replies with a confirming, "Yeah I am."
"I'm going to Sheffield."
"Okay." Naomi doesn't really know what she's supposed to do now that they've ripped the seal off of their unspoken subject; continues to lay still, eyes trained on the ceiling.
Emily leans up on her elbow and looks down at her. "We'll make it work, won't we?" She doesn't know what to say, doesn't think there is anything she could say to reassure something she isn't certain about. She leans up and brushes a chaste kiss to Emily's mouth instead. Emily lies down again, snuggles back into her, pressing a kiss to Naomi's bare shoulder, murmuring, "We have to."
Naomi closes her eyes, pulls Emily in closer and wonders when it was that Emily started sounding more uncertain about them than she does.
The night before Emily's due to leave for Sheffield, they agree to spend a few hours together, to make the most of what time they have left before things change.
Emily comes over to her house, takes her by the hand, leads her up to her room without saying a word and makes love to her excruciatingly slowly; lavishes every inch of her skin with gentle kisses and delicate touches.
It leaves Naomi feeling completely overwhelmed when she feels Emily's lips whispering, "I love you." over her heart; feels her resolve crumbling in an instant.
It makes her breath hitch out of nowhere; her shoulders shake as racking sobs finally escape from her mouth, her eyes stinging as endless tears flow freely.
Emily lifts her head up, cups her cheek and tries to shush her. "Naomi, it's okay. We'll be okay. I promise."
She hates it. Hates how even now, in this, their final moment together that Emily is still trying to hold her hand, to guide her through whatever battlefield she's stumbling across—almost as if she's willing her own heart to protect Naomi's.
She doesn't deserve it, she never has, and the look of utter affection in Emily's eyes is the final reminder of why she doesn't.
She can't keep playing this part anymore.
"I can't do this." The words tumble out of Naomi's mouth in broken gasps. "I just... can't do this anymore." She can barely watch as Emily's face freezes, sees the way the bright spark distinguishes in her eyes.
Emily's bottom lip trembles slightly, her face scrunching up in a look of pain as she pushes away. Naomi loosens her hold on Emily's back, watches as she rolls off of her and climbs out of the bed, tugging on her clothing in rapid speed.
Emily doesn't look at Naomi until she's over at her bedroom door, turns to her with a look that's part hope and part resignation. "Jesus Christ, I can't believe you're doing this again." She lets out a shaky breath, forces her eyes to hold Naomi's own for long moments before speaking again. "You're never going to stop fighting against it, are you? I've been trying my hardest all year to pretend that you're in this with me, but you just won't let your guard down long enough for me to make it through to you."
Naomi can feel the fear rushing out through her broken barriers, is reminded of the last time Emily hurried from her bed just before the Love Ball--crushed once again by her hurtful words. She feels her heart clench at the sight of tears falling freely from Emily's eyes.
"Why can't you just let yourself love me, Naomi?"
She sees it then, that painfully submissive and expectant look in Emily's eyes, knows that in this moment, she's once again in charge of what happens to them, and Emily is the poor soul that has to silently suffer with whatever she decides.
Naomi pointlessly opens her mouth to respond, closes it seconds later when she realises there's nothing she can say that will answer any of Emily's questions.
She doesn't know; she never has known.
Emily lifts a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose before letting out a deep breath and finding Naomi's eyes again. "If you can decide between now and tomorrow morning whether it's not so awful, loving me back, then you know what platform of the station you can find me on. I'll wait until the very last minute for you to show up and tell me that we can do this together... but, if you choose not to be there, Naomi, then I'm going to get on that train and go and live my life."
Naomi lifts a hand to quickly brush the tears off of her cheeks; tries to look away from Emily but can't, and something in Emily's expression softens.
After another moment and a deep sigh, Emily smiles sorrowfully, takes the few small steps back over to the bed and sits down on the edge, covering Naomi's hand with her own. "I will always love you, but you're not the only one who feels like they can't keep doing this anymore."
Naomi can't stand to look at the disappointment on Emily's face anymore, twists her head so that it breaks their gaze. She feels Emily shift, soft lips suddenly pressing a faint kiss to her forehead; her eyes closing on instinct as she savours the contact, as if it's bound to be the last time.
Naomi keeps her eyes closed, doesn't open them again until after Emily's whispered, "Bye, Naomi," and has clicked the door shut behind her in a way that sounds an awful lot like an end.
She doesn't go to the train station.
Instead, Naomi stays lying in bed, staring over at the empty space next to her where Emily would usually be; the imprint on her pillow still there as a stark reminder that she's missing.
She reaches out, carefully runs her fingertips over the space next to her; closes her eyes when her hand comes to rest on the pillow, tries to remember what Emily's skin felt like beneath her touch. Already can't.
Naomi rolls over and turns her back on it when she starts to imagine that she's hearing the clickety-clack of a train pulling away.
When her eyes catch the clock resting on her nightstand, she begins to cry uncontrollably- out of heartbreak, out of relief, out of guilt, out of what exactly Naomi's not quite sure, just knows that she doesn't feel any lighter, just emptier than she did before.
The day before she's due to leave for London, Naomi watches the torrential rain through her bedroom window; leans her head against the cool glass and focuses on how the storm washes everything away.
A clean slate, she thinks hours later as she finishes packing up the remainder of her things.
She rolls her eyes when her arrival at UCL doesn't go smoothly. Finds that they've messed up her residential setup because they thought 'Naomi Campbell,' coming to their university was some kind of hoax.
Rolls her eyes even more when the best solution they can offer her is a room at their 'Campbell House' dorm.
For the first few weeks, she sees flashes of red everywhere, wonders what it means that she never paid much attention to the red in her life before when now it's all she can think about.
Ironic, Naomi thinks, and wishes that it didn't make her hurt so damn much.