AN: - Just a MASSIVE THANKS to all of you that have followed, read and commented on this. It's been a blast to write and hear what you've all thought :)
Chapter Six: Collide //Out of the doubt that fills my mind. I somehow find you and I collide.\\
The Fitch house looks exactly the same as she remembers.
It's not surprising really, that Naomi still feels anxious when it finally comes into view, as if seeing it has launched her back several years and left her working up the courage to stop being a twat long enough to just ring the doorbell and tell Emily that she's sorry for whatever insensitive and idiotic crime she's committed this time.
It never was easy, approaching the place where Emily called home- even after Emily had made the Fitch's aware of their relationship, if anything Naomi remembers it being worse, especially those times when she'd had to sit opposite Jenna Fitch (after already being told once before to disappear) and have to suffer under her disgusted and relentless glare at some piss-poor attempt at a civilised dinner.
Naomi wonders what the consequences will be this time, when she finally announces her arrival, thinks that if her luck is anything to go by, it will be Jenna who will answer the door with that devilishly fierce look washing over her face, her lip snarling upwards and her eyes narrowing in on her. Wonders just how much gun-fire will be shot in her direction this time, when Jenna realises the reason Emily is still in Bristol is because of her, because of them and what they've fallen back into.
She suspects it'll sting like a bitch, that first slap Jenna will surely deliver to her face when she confesses to being the reason behind Emily's breakup to Rachel, when she confesses to being there to finally, and rightfully claim Emily back as hers.
But none of it matters, not if she can see Emily- hold her, tell her she loves her and make everything right, no, none of it matters if they're together.
It's almost comical how she still breathes in deeply and finds her hand shaking when she lifts her finger to press the doorbell, but it's not like it was before, she feels focused this time, determined not to let this chance- to let Emily, slip away from her again.
The wait is suffocating; each chirp of a bird, each ruffling of the trees in the wind amplifies the nervous fluttering in Naomi's stomach and leaves her heart beating rapidly with anticipation. It feels like she stares at the door forever trying to listen for any footsteps- only it seems eerily still, doesn't seem like there's any movement locked away inside and it leaves Naomi feeling horribly disappointed, as if her grand plan has crashed down before it could ever really take off.
"You looking for any Fitch in particular?" Naomi stiffens at the gruff, but always cheery voice, and turns slowly to see Rob staring at her; his eyes blinking rapidly as he sees her face.
"Hello Mr Fitch, long time no see, huh?" She replies awkwardly.
There's bafflement evident in his voice when he says, "Naomi, this is certainly a surprise; last I heard you'd gone off to some fancy university in London." Naomi almost looks away from him then, as if there's accusation to his words, but then he smiles and says, "What are you doing here?"
Naomi falters at the question, doesn't quite know what she's supposed to say and ends up settling for a simple version of the truth. "I was hoping Emily would be here."
Rob shakes his head with a grin. "Ah that's right, it was your mum's wedding wasn't it? Emsy said she and Rachel were coming down for it." He pauses and scratches at his head, "I'm sure they've headed back to London by now though."
She thinks momentarily about telling him the truth, telling him everything that's happened but it doesn't seem right to interfere with Emily's family, to tell them Emily's secrets when she's never really been considered part of their inner circle.
Instead she plasters a smile across her face and says, "Maybe you wouldn't mind giving me Katie's address? It's been far too long since I last saw her." Rob looks at her a little curiously and Naomi hopes he's forgotten how much Katie used to openly loathe her, hope he buys her lie and makes this easy for her.
"I'm sure our Katiekins would love that, she's always saying she misses her friends from college. Not that Stonem girl mind you, battered her up badly, which is surprising giving how weedy she looked in the photos I saw of her. She could have done with a few hours in a gym..." Naomi nods her head in agreement as Rob trails off and tries not to snigger at his description of Effy. "Come inside a minute, love. I'll write it down for you."
Naomi takes a breath and follows him into the house she knows both far too well and far too little, and hopes that maybe, one day, it'll feel more like a place she can consider as somewhere where's invited with welcoming arms.
Odd, is the first thing to come to mind when Naomi reaches Katie's house, and it's that sentiment alone that she finds unusual to begin with, that Katie, the thoughtless girl who caused her nothing but hell for years on end, has her own, and what appears to be completely normal looking house.
And it's a little stupid, Naomi thinks, because of course Katie has her own home now and isn't living tucked away in some kind of evil lair decorated in leopard print and cheap, tacky fake jewellery. It makes Naomi roll her eyes at herself, because surely Katie's changed as much as she has, as much as they all have, and well, it's the least Naomi can hope for as she approaches the door.
She doesn't think when she reaches out and presses the doorbell, thinks it's probably for the best if she goes up against Katie a little unprepared, because she never could be sure what would come spewing out of Katie's mouth, and if Emily's let on that Naomi's partly to blame for why she unexpectedly turned up on her sister's doorstep, then Naomi's pretty certain that Katie will have something to say about it and she can almost guarantee that it won't be friendly.
"You looking for Katie Fitch?" Naomi turns to see a little old lady with a warm smile poking her head out of the door belonging to the house next to Katie's and nods her head. The lady smiles and says, "You've missed her, took off around 8.a.m. to leave for work-- lovely, hard working girl... anyway she won't be back until this evening, although I do believe she has a house guest at the moment, twin sister, I think."
Naomi nods her head, "She's the one I'm here to see actually. Do you know if Emily will be back soon?"
The old lady purses her lips together in thought and after a long moment replies, "She also left first thing this morning, was carrying a large shovel... seems like a strange girl, that one." Naomi frowns at the response, doesn't understand why Emily would ever be carrying a shovel anywhere.
She realises she's being rude when she still feels the old ladies eyes on her and forces a smile in her direction. "Thanks for your help."
It isn't until she's almost back at her mum's that Naomi considers the possibility of all of the places Emily might have gone, comes up with one answer that seems certain and changes her course to head in the direction where it all really began for them.
Naomi's always surprised by how each and every time she goes back there, to the lake-- to their lake, just how much if fills her with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia of that very first time Emily had taken her there.
She always remembers the good parts first, the moments where Emily really stopped being someone so shy and tentative and finally became her own person- just Emily without the baggage that usually followed of 'the shy twin' 'the loser twin' 'Katie's sister' and where Naomi really saw her for the first time; eyes finally opened to the real Emily and not just the facade she'd hidden behind for all those years.
And it had been shocking at the time, shocking and lovely- Emily had been lovely, and it's something that Naomi would have denied down to the bone if someone had asked her at the time it happened, but she knows now, she can admit it without that dreaded feeling of suffocating, that that first night she spent with Emily had been amazing.
That's part of the reason why it still hurts, more so now, knowing that she'd woken up with Emily snuggled into her body and breathing warmly out against her neck, and instinctively felt so sick, so terrified that she'd recoiled away from Emily as quickly and quietly as possible to make her escape without a second thought of what damage it may cause to the girl she was leaving behind.
Ashamed, Naomi remembers clearly, was exactly how she'd felt as Emily caught her running away, and it's still painful to have to add 'again' to that sentence. But in the morning light it had made Naomi resent Emily so much just for making her feel- for opening her up, for exposing her and allowing Naomi to share part of herself that she wasn't all that ready to share- that Naomi was selfish and cruel and continued on walking even after Emily begged her to stay; her voice breaking as she pleaded with Naomi to stay.
It seems stupid now, the amount of time she spent fighting against Emily and all that she made her feel, because in truth it had been inevitable, always a losing battle, and Naomi had known that deep down, but that hadn't meant that it made it any easier to digest or to accept.
It feels pointless to waste away more time now, wondering what could have been had she just been willing and ready to want, to need, when her eyes stumble over the torn up earth, the messy piles of mud scattered over ground that had once been as beautiful and untouched as the rest of the place.
Naomi feels her chest restricting tightly, the air in her lungs squeezed forcefully out of her body when she gets close enough to see the owner of the destruction. Looks down to see Emily's fragile and broken form practically curled up inside the deep muddy hole and watches as Emily's red, puffy eyes raise up to meet her own.
She feels the words catch in her throat, doesn't know what she's supposed to say in this moment to take all of the pain away, to fix everything that she's obviously broken, and so she swallows down hard against the lump in her throat and manages, "Rachel came to see me." Emily doesn't respond, just looks away from her and sniffles brokenly and Naomi reels with the notion that she's not getting this right, that she's already undoing them more than necessary; wants so desperately to see Emily smile that she tries to lighten the mood and adds, "What's with the hole? It looks like a bomb has gone off down here."
Emily does look at her then, pierces Naomi with cold eyes and wryly replies, "It was time that we cut the ties to the past, don't you think?"
It stings more than anything she's been made to feel since Emily walked back into her life, so much so that it makes Naomi's breath catch in her throat at just how defeated it sounds falling from Emily's mouth, that no matter how hard they've tried they've still crashed and burned.
Only they haven't, and Naomi can't believe that, won't. Finds her voice thick with emotion when she asks, "You really believe that?"
Emily doesn't say a word, and Naomi can tell just by the way that she purses her lips together, by the way her brown eyes narrow incredulously that Emily's utterly conflicted by it all, probably doesn't know where she's supposed to even start in this disastrous mess they've created for themselves.
Naomi allows her that moment of silence, uses it to move in closer to Emily, sliding down into the side of the hole opposite her, and takes the opportunity to trail her eyes over every inch of Emily's body, only stopping when she catches sight of her hands; covered in a mixture of dirt and blood which make Naomi reach out for her instinctively.
But Emily becomes alert as Naomi shifts and pulls her hands away from Naomi before she gets the chance to touch her; her knees drawing up tighter to her chest as if to protect herself further from Naomi's advances as she growls, "Don't, okay? Don't you dare try and comfort me."
Naomi feels her eyes burning with tears and reaches out for her again desperately, achingly, when she whispers, "Please, Emily."
Her attempt only causes to make something in Emily's eyes flicker angrily, her voice flooding with rage and hurt as she shoves Naomi's hands away with a, "No, Naomi. This doesn't mean we can just be together. You have no idea what you've done; Rachel's a great woman, who loves me, who was there for me when you weren't, and we-- I hurt her. I betrayed her." Naomi can only watch then as Emily's eyes fill with tears that escape easily down her cheeks, her voice coming out as a horse whisper when she continues, "Jesus, how could I do that to her."
It ends with Emily releasing a wracking sob that undoes Naomi completely, leaves her feeling guilty and pained and helpless all at once, that all she can think to do is reach out to try and touch Emily, to comfort her in any way that she can, to take away some of the blame that is crushing Emily so unbearably in front of her very eyes.
"Em, sweetheart, don't cry. Everything will be all right; we'll work it out, okay? I promise," Naomi murmurs frantically, soothing her hands up and down Emily's arms in an attempt just to keep her grounded, to stop her slipping away from her completely.
But it doesn't work, Emily pushes her away again, more urgently this time and snarls, "Get off me." as she pushes herself to her feet and climbs out of the hole and away from Naomi as quickly as she can.
Naomi doesn't even have to think this time, finds that her feet respond automatically and lead her after Emily without wasting a second. She moves swiftly, catches Emily by the arm and forces her to turn and face her as she begs, "Emily wait--"
"No," Emily snaps cutting her off and drawing her arm back. "She may be right, and I may love you, but it doesn't make this," Naomi watches as Emily gestures wildly between them as she adds, "Us, right. It never has. You didn't want me when you had me, and now I can't."
Naomi can't control the way her eyes well up at what Emily's saying, because nothing about this moment is right, this wasn't supposed to happen this way and she doesn't know how to explain that she had wanted Emily back when she had her but she just hadn't known how. And now they've let it get so messed up, more than it ever was that they're breaking each other down all over again.
Naomi's not sure she can survive watching them collapse this time round and so she breathes out a whimpered, "Ems..." and tries to reach for her hand again, tries to beg her with her eyes, to make her see that they can do this if they just try, if Emily lets her.
But Emily doesn't let her, just dodges her grasp and shakes her head in defeat. "No, this changes everything between us again, Naomi."
"Don't say that." Naomi chokes out, crying now. "I know we'll work it out."
Emily bites at her lip and looks away from her, and it leaves Naomi feeling so lost and powerless that she feels her chest tightening up rapidly. Emily's eyes are back on hers after a second, and she looks so drained, and so worn down by it all when she says honestly, "But what if I'm not sure that I can."
Naomi feels her breath lodging in the back of her throat as Emily drags her eyes away from her and begins to walk away. It feels a lot like re-living the past, only Emily's the one who gets to decide this time, she's the one who can chose to walk away and let it all go. Naomi's the one left trapped by all that they are and all that they can be.
It's only when she sees the distance Emily's putting between them that she manages to find her voice again, her words turning frantic and breaking as she calls out after her. "Emily, please don't walk away. I love you and I know you love me. Don't leave me here, be brave and stay with me."
But Emily doesn't stop, doesn't turn back around to face her; just keeps on walking. And it's only when Emily's fully out of her sight that Naomi breaks down and cries, wonders if she caused Emily the same amount of pain back when she left her behind that very first time.
It's getting dark by the time she gets home- and Naomi wonders briefly is she'll always think of this house as home even though she hasn't lived there for years- but then her mum appears in the kitchen doorway and offers her a tentative smile as she looks Naomi over, beckoning her further into the house until Naomi's close enough that her mum can pull her in for a much needed hug.
"You're bloody freezing, love." Gina pulls back and taps her gently on the cheek, "Come on, I'll put the kettle on."
Naomi's thankful then, that she isn't immediately bombarded with questions, likes how her mother's caught on to the times when she really just needs to give Naomi a moment of silence to try and pull all of her thoughts together.
They drink their coffee together silently and only when Naomi's finished does she look up at her mum and say, "I'm in love with Emily."
And her mum laughs then, actually looks at her with a smile and replies, "About time you caught up on that one, darling. I was starting to worry that I'd dropped you too many times as a child and left you with permanent brain damage."
Naomi rolls her eyes and tries to smile but finds that she can't, not with everything that's still preventing her from being happy and lets out an exasperated sigh."I don't know how to fix it mum, I-- she loves me, I know she does but she doesn't trust me," she lets out a snort, because when exactly did she ever give Emily the chance to trust her and when she sees the question on her mum's face a second later, she adds, "Rachel's ended things with her."
Gina nods her head in understanding. "Well, I take it you're here to finally get her back then?"
"Yes..." Naomi swallows down the lump in her throat and averts her eyes. "Except she doesn't want to be with me, says she can't; not now I've fucked up her life again."
"Naomi, don't be a twat." It makes Naomi look back at her mother in surprise, her mouth open as if ready to fire back a retort when Gina pierces her with a pointed look. "You're my daughter, and God knows I love you with all my heart, but you really need to pull your finger out sometimes."
Naomi blinks for a few long second and says, "What are you talking about mum? I'm fucking here aren't I?"
Gina shakes her head disbelievingly. "And after everything you've just told me, you think that's enough?"
It makes Naomi balk, catches her so off guard that all she can do is mutter back, "I... fuck's sake, I'm doing the best I can."
"No you're not." Gina's eyes soften when she sees Naomi's shoulders tense up out of nowhere and reaches out to cover her hand. "If you're serious about this, about really loving Emily this time, you'll get off your bloody arse and make her trust you. You've got to force her to believe, love, otherwise you'll be proving her right and she'll never be willing to give you another chance."
Naomi sighs heavily reaching into her bag for her cigarettes. "And how do I do that exactly? Because clearly I'm not getting this right, am I?"
"I always found that a combination of patience and persistence works well for situations like this." Gina plucks the cigarette from Naomi's fingers before she can light it and shakes her head. "You've got to remember just how long it's been Naomi, you've both changed a hell of a lot and Emily's just had her life turned upside down."
"I wasn't expecting this to happen either, okay?" Naomi snipes defensively.
"I know that, sweetheart." Gina replies calmly. "Just let Emily know that you really mean it this time, make sure she's aware that you're not going anywhere, prove yourself somehow and then be patient while she deals with everything. If it's meant to be it'll be."
Naomi swallows hard and whispers, "And what if it's not meant to be?"
Gina doesn't say anything else for a few long moments, just leans forward and presses a lingering kiss to Naomi's forehead before adding, "You'll never know unless you try, Naomi." and leaving her daughter alone in the kitchen.
Naomi picks up her cigarette and lights it, inhales the smoke deeply and decides that maybe for once in her life she should listen to her mum's advice. Hopes that trying will be enough this time round and if it isn't, well, she'll just have to try even harder.
She doesn't sleep.
Lays awake and thinks about everything she wants to say. Doesn't want to give Emily a chance to catch her off guard with questions she's unprepared for.
Even why she tries to work it out, Naomi still doesn't know what she's meant to expect.
It's almost 9.a.m. by the time she reaches Katie's house and Naomi feels a wave of nervousness fluttering in her stomach when she catches sight of a silhouette moving past one of the windows. Isn't sure which of the twins it is but hopes to God that it's the one she's here to see and not the one that will surely make this harder for her.
She takes a few deep, steadying breaths and reaches out for the doorbell; listening to the faint ringing she hears echoing throughout the house. It doesn't take long before she hears a voice calling "just a minute" accompanied by the gentle pitter-patter of hurried feet that leave Naomi steeling herself for the reveal.
Naomi sees the flash of red that appears on the other side of the door and feels relieved that it's Emily - knows that Katie had changed her hair dark after the whole Effy and the rock incident - but then just as she's readying herself to say everything she's come there to, the door remains shut, and Naomi can just make out Emily's shape through the frosted glass pane, knows that Emily has recognised her too.
She tries to make out Emily's eyes through the glass and says, "Em, please open the door." when she realises Emily isn't going to do so willingly.
Emily's quiet for a long time and Naomi can almost hear the way she's breathing deeply, as if Naomi being anywhere near her has sucked away all of the air and left them both to stifle in the thickness of their surroundings, in the thickness of them.
"How did you find me?"
It's a barely audible question and yet Naomi is so focused, so in-tune to everything that is happening, she hears it easily, wouldn't be foolish enough to not be alert to everything that is going on. "I went to your old house. Spoke to your dad."
"You did what?" Emily's voice is clearer now, louder and edgier, a little angry. "You had no right to tell him about anything that's going on; they're my family, Naomi."
And of course Emily expected her to have gone in with guns blazing, running her mouth off like she would have at age sixteen, all headstrong and over-opinionated. But things have changed, she's changed, and maybe that's part of the problem, their miscommunication on the things that are present and no longer the same.
"I didn't say a word, Ems. I promise. I just asked him if you were there and when he said no I asked for Katie's address, but that's all, okay?" Naomi explains desperately and raises her hand up to press against the glass when she adds, "Please open the door. I need to see you."
She hears Emily sigh in response. "I can't. Please just go back to London, Naomi. I said all that I had to say to you yesterday so don't make this harder."
It hurts more than a little, to know that Emily won't even try, won't even hear what she has to say, doesn't appear to want to, and yet Naomi feels a rush of determination, of hope that things will-- can be different if they both just try, that she refuses to back down.
"Sorry, Em, but I can't do that." Naomi bobs down and tries to peer through the letterbox, can only just make out Emily's legs when she adds, "I can't leave, not while you're still here. I meant what I said that night, I love you and I'm not going anywhere this time. So please just open the door so we can talk about this properly."
It goes quiet again, and Naomi can hear a faint knock, imagines that Emily's allowed herself to sink back against the wall to support herself, and there's something about that image that makes Naomi ache, just picturing Emily struggling against it all and still not letting herself take Naomi's hand.
"There's nothing left to say Naomi, you're wasting your time. Just go, all right. I don't want to speak to you," Emily breathes out.
Naomi closes her eyes for a second, tries to gather her thoughts, and opens them again to see Emily's figure disappear down the hallway without another word. She can't help but momentarily feel like she's trying to fight a lost cause, a cause that Emily seemingly wants her to give up on; doesn't want Naomi to fight for her. But just as quickly as that thought comes, she hears her mum's voice echoing in her head and reminding her that she can't just give up, that she's got to make more of an effort this time if she's ever to convince Emily they can work this out together.
And so she pushes the letterbox back open and calls, "I'll stay out here all day if I have to, Emily, but I'm not leaving you; not now, not ever," and feels better for saying it even if Emily doesn't want to hear it. At least one of them is starting to believe in her now, and Naomi can't think of a better person to start with than herself.
Emily's doesn't reply at all and so Naomi lets herself sink down outside the door just like she'd done before all that time ago and hopes that eventually Emily will be just as willing to spend the night holding her hand through a cat-flap as she had been back then; hopes that not everything has changed as drastically as it might have.
It starts raining in the afternoon, cold, windy, torrential rain that makes Naomi unable to stop shivering and yet she doesn't attempt to move, stays leaning against the door in the hopes that Emily will eventually cave in and speak to her.
The house has been horribly quiet for a long time, and Naomi almost craves just to hear the sound of Emily's footsteps so that she can somehow feel closer to her than she currently does. But Emily doesn't give in, doesn't come to her rescue this time and offer out a second chance with arms wide open and it comes as a harsh blow to Naomi when she realises that perhaps Emily won't give in this time at all, that maybe things really have changed more than she expected them to have.
It's only when the sun starts to disappear behind the clouds and her fingers start turning blue from the cold, that Naomi relinquishes this first round, let's Emily have this fight when she concludes that it just isn't going to happen as easily as she'd hoped for. Knows she'll have to come up with something better for tomorrow, the battle nowhere near over.
She's blinded by car lights as she pushes herself to her feet and it's only when the engine and lights switch off that her vision adjusts to see Katie looking at her with a mixture of shock and curiosity.
Katie is out of the car and standing in front of her - dressed smartly is a gray dress and carrying a large folder - in no time, and it's so surprising to see Katie looking anything but a cheap tart that it causes Naomi to miss Katie's first question all together.
Finds herself blinking rapidly and muttering a pathetic, "What?" when Katie glares at her and says her name for a second time with a growl and draws her attention back to the moment.
"Fuck's sake Naomi." Katie says, shoving past her and getting her keys out of her bag. "I said what the hell are you doing standing outside of my door looking like a drowned bloody rat?"
Naomi thinks about telling her to mind her own fucking business, but then she remembers that getting into a petty argument with Katie will do her no favours in getting Emily to talk to her, and so she wipes some of the rain out of her eyes and says instead, "Emily wouldn't open the door." as if that explains everything.
Katie's managed to open the door and step inside by the time Naomi's answered and she looks back over her shoulder as they both hear Emily calling out, "Kay, is that you? Has she gone yet?" before looking at Naomi pityingly and saying, "You should go home Naomi."
Naomi shakes her head, her voice pleading when she replies, "I need to see her, Katie."
There's the ruffling sound of a few more footsteps behind Katie a second later and Naomi catches a glimpse of Emily descending down the stairs, feels her breath catch when their eyes meet for just a second before Emily has disappeared out of sight again.
She doesn't get a chance to say anything else as Katie starts shaking her head and pushing the door closed when she sees Naomi taking a step closer, as if Naomi's ready to just barge her way in. "I mean it Naomi, go home. You've obviously caused enough damage for today."
Naomi can't react then, when she's overrun with memories of Katie saying exactly the same thing to her all those years ago whenever she'd proved to be a dick and sent Emily running away from her in tears.
She just watches Katie close the door on her face and has to bite down hard on her lip to keep herself from crying, hopes the deafening sound of the door closing isn't a symbol that Emily is shutting her out of her life for good.
It feels a lot like the start of a routine when she can't shut her mind off and go to sleep, feels like she's trapped by all of her past mistakes, as if they're falling in on her and forcing her to choke and suffocate on her own regrets.
Naomi's jarred from her dozing early the next morning by her mobile, the murmuring sound of her phone vibrating loudly on the wooden bedside table leaving her scrambling out blindly to answer the call.
She answers with a gruff, "Hello," her voice dry and hoarse from lack of sleep and moisture.
It's silent on the other end for a long moment and Naomi repeats herself twice more before she hears a hesitant, "I'll meet with you, okay?"
She sits up quickly then, making herself dizzy and rubs at her eyes before pulling the phone away from her ear and reading "Emily" on the screen; has to fight to keep the disbelief out of her voice when she replies, "Where?"
"The Starbucks in Bristol Arcade at 1.30.p.m. Don't be late, yeah?"
"I'll be there." Naomi answers back quickly and listens as the line goes dead a second later.
The first thing that Naomi thinks when she gets to the coffee shop - and starts scouting through the groups of people for Emily's unmistakable red hair - is that there's no fucking way she's stupid enough to have fallen for this twice.
Only she must be, because there's no sign of Emily anywhere, only Katie, sitting off in a corner on her own and staring at Naomi the second she walks through the door. It makes Naomi think about turning straight around and leaving, doesn't see the point in suffering another one of Katie "she's mine, bitch" warnings, but then Katie raises her hand and waves her over with a soft smile that immediately sets Naomi on edge.
"Was that you on the phone?" She asks when she gets close enough.
Katie smirks back at her in the way that only Katie Fitch can do and it almost makes Naomi's stomach knot when she cockily replies, "She shouldn't leave it lying around." Naomi opens her mouth to reply but comes up empty, doesn't understand how Katie can turn this into some kind of sick game again. But then Katie rolls her eyes and lets out an amused sigh, "Jesus Christ, Campbell, your face. I'm fucking messing with you, yeah?"
"Clearly," Naomi replies snidely, still unimpressed.
"Would you, like, stop being a twat and sit down? I'm trying to help here, you dozy cow."
Naomi reluctantly takes the seat opposite Katie and glares over at her. "How exactly is you faking to be Emily, again, helping me?"
"Look, Naomi, don't be a cunt already, yeah?" Katie says not entirely unkindly. "If you'd just shut up and listen to what I have to say--" Naomi rolls her eyes and Katie purses her lips together before continuing, "Believe it or not, I'm not out to get you. I'm not that person anymore. Surely you can understand that people change, right?"
Naomi averts her eyes, suddenly feeling embarrassed by her childish reactions, mumbles, "Yeah I can... sorry."
"Forgiven," Katie replies easily and it makes Naomi feel even more like a twat that Katie hasn't laced the word with hatred or sarcasm, just sincerity. Katie must sense her surprise because she rolls her eyes again and says, "Are you going to order a coffee and relax now that you know I'm not going to bite your head off, or are you just going to sit there looking like a gormless tit?"
It's the first thing to make Naomi smile in hours and she doesn't know whether to offer Katie a genuine 'thank you' or to leave their new and still strange, balance alone. In the end she chooses to say nothing and follows Katie's order to get herself a drink.
"So..." Katie says after they've both taken several sips of their coffees.
Naomi stiffens involuntarily and looks up at Katie sheepishly, "Is this the part where you tell me to leave Emily alone again? That she's yours?"
Katie smiles unexpectedly and lets out a chuckle. "I can't believe I ever fucking said that in the first place, I mean, how gross does that sound?" Naomi smiles too and can't help feel slightly more relaxed now that she's pretty certain Katie's not going to slap her or anything. "She hasn't actually said all that much about what's going on between you two this time."
"Oh," Naomi murmurs, feels almost disappointed that Emily hasn't cared enough to tell Katie when she knows that Emily almost always tells Katie, even when she claims to hate her sometimes.
"It's not that she doesn't feel whatever it is that's going on or, like, want to talk about it, though." Katie assures her. "It's just-- Emily's not as, like, heart and emotions on her sleeve anymore, y'know?" Naomi nods her head but doesn't attempt to say anything in response. "I knew something was going on though, because the moment she mentioned that you worked at the school she was starting at, she got all, quiet and pensive and shit and the only person that's ever made her that withdrawn is you."
"Thanks," Naomi scoffs, hating that it's partly true. "And what about you, Katiekins, I'm guessing you didn't have the same effect on her as I did?" She knows it was a stupid thing to say when Katie's eyes flash with a mixture of hurt and regret. "Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't--" Naomi pinches at the bridge of her nose as if it will force her brain to slow down and process her thoughts before she speaks.
Katie shakes her head with a small shrug. "Don't worry about it, yeah? I mean, you're right, me and you combined made the majority of Emily's teenaged years shitty, didn't we?"
Naomi swallows down hard against the lump that has formed in her throat. "Yeah... we did."
"Things change though, yeah? I mean, we grew up, right? Stopped being self-absorbed morons?"
"Definitely." Naomi pauses and lets out a shaky breath. "Why did you call to meet with me if you're not here to tell me to leave Emily the hell alone?"
Katie purses her lips together for a second and says, "To ask you to go back to London."
"I knew it," Naomi explodes, feeling the anger bubble up inside her as she pierces Katie with a venomous glare. "I fucking knew from the moment I saw you sitting in here that you'd try and get rid of me again. So much for bloody change, you bitch."
Naomi pushes her chair back with a screech and is shocked to see Katie pushing to her own feet, her eyes wide in irritation as she growls, "Sit the fuck down, Naomi." When she doesn't make a move to sit back down Katie quirks an eyebrow and says forcefully, "Now."
There's something about the way Katie's eyes are almost pleading her to sit that make Naomi stay, lowering herself back down into her seat cautiously.
"I meant it when I said that I wasn't out to get you, all right?" Katie says once she's settled back down too, all the warning in her voice disappeared. "Despite what you think about me, or like to fucking think you know about me, I am actually trying to help you here."
"By telling me to go back to London?" Naomi asks disbelieving. "I'm sorry that I'm having a hard time believing that you actually want to help me, Katie, but you've hated me for as long as I can remember. So I'm sorry if I'm not all that trusting of this new version of you."
"I didn't hate you, Naomi." Katie replies with a shake of her head.
"Yes you did, you loathed me Katie." Naomi knows it's true, thinks it's ridiculous that Katie could ever claim to not have wanted her out of their lives for good. "You couldn't stand that Emily loved me, or that we were together. You pretty much made things impossible for us sometimes."
"I was threatened by you, all right?" Katie retorts defensively, her cheeks flushing a mild pink as she momentarily averts Naomi's gaze.
Naomi stares at her for a few seconds, because when had Katie Fitch ever been threatened by anyone other than Effy and her wild rock handling ways? She feels her face contort with confusion when she asks a baffled, "What?"
"I didn't hate you Naomi. I don't hate you." Katie says softly, almost as if she's embarrassed to be admitting it. "But you've got to understand that I hated what you meant to Emily and what that meant for me."
Naomi blinks a few times, as if hoping that will somehow help this all add up. "I don't understand; it doesn't make sense, Katie."
Katie lets out a heavy sigh and looks directly at her. "Do you have any idea what it's like to go through every stage of your life with someone, practically attached at the hip, sharing moments that other people don't. It's unique, that bond I have with Ems. As far as I was aware I was the only person who understood her, who got her, and she was that person for me too." She pauses for a brief second as she looks Naomi over. "But then you came along out of nowhere and Emily, fuck knows why, was drawn to you."
Naomi smirks in response. "Must have been my good looks and dazzling charm, don't you think?"
Katie rolls her eyes. "You're missing the point, you cow."
"And what point's that?" Naomi asks seriously.
"That you were replacing me." Katie breathes out looking rather horrified and ashamed to be actually saying so.
Naomi can't stop herself from breaking out into a laugh. "Katie that's absurd. I could never replace you. Emily loves you more than I'll ever understand and even when we were together you were still the one person she always defended, always cared and worried about. Her loving me didn't change that." She sees the unease that flashes through Katie's eyes and offers her a small smile. "Jesus, some of our biggest fights were about you and even when they weren't you were somehow always this lingering, unresolved issue between us."
"I know that now, yeah?" Katie replies, still looking a little uncomfortable but relaxing slightly. "But at the time if felt like you were taking her away from me and that you didn't even care all that much, that you didn't really want her. And it made me angry, I didn't get how Emily could still want you even when you treated her like shit, even when you ran away and pushed her away she always came back for more."
"I don't get it either. She was obviously a glutton for punishment." Naomi says sadly.
Katie shakes her head with a small smile. "No, she was just blindly in love with you, Naomi."
Naomi feels her eyes stinging at Katie's words and has to look away from her. "Yeah, well apparently she's not anymore. She doesn't want me anywhere near her. And why would she, I've cocked her life up twice now, haven't I?"
"Trust me, she still loves you Naomi, but as much as Emily's changed, part of her is still the same and it's all a little shocking and overwhelming for her to love you for the first time with her eyes open, to see you and not the version of you she dreamt up in her fantasies."
Naomi's quiet for a long moment, can't think of anything to say except, "I really fucking love her, Katie."
"I know." Katie replies sincerely as she reaches out and covers Naomi's hand with her own. "That's why I'm asking you to go back to London. You need to give her some time on her own to figure this all out for herself and when she's ready to, she'll seek you out, yeah?"
Naomi has to wipe at her eyes and forces out a chuckle, "Fuck's sake, Katie, when did you get so bloody wise, huh?"
"Around the same time that you realised what a mistake you'd made letting Ems go, I should think."
Naomi laughs. "Did you have to have these sorts of chats with Rachel, make sure she knew that she'd never love Emily as much as you?"
Katie rolls her eyes but then smiles genuinely, "No need. She never scared me the way you did." Naomi can't help but smile softly back at her. "Plus, I could have taken her if she'd caused any trouble."
Naomi smirks in response. "Katie Fitch, still one badass motherfucker."
"And don't you forget it." Katie says proudly.
"How could I? I can still feel the sting in my cheek from when you slapped me at the love-ball." Naomi teases, reaching up and playfully rubbing at her face.
"Yeah, well, hopefully I won't have to whack some sense into you again anytime soon since it seems like you've finally got your head fixed on properly."
Naomi rolls her eyes and then grows serious. "So I just go back to London and wait?"
Katie nods. "Yeah, trust me. I know how Ems thinks about these sorts of things and she just needs time. Can you give her that?"
"Yes." Naomi replies as she stands. "But will you make sure to tell her that I love her and I'll wait as long as it takes."
"No need, she already knows you soppy twat."
It's still a little surprising, then, when Katie tentatively pulls her into a hug, squeezing her just the once as if that settles the last of their feud. "I'll call you and let you know how she's doing, okay?"
"Yeah, okay." She offers Katie one final smile before she turns on her heel to leave, stopping only when she realises there's something she's forgotten. "Katie?"
"Yeah?" Katie asks, looking up at her with wide eyes.
Naomi swallows down the lump in her throat and smiles at Katie when she says honestly, "Thanks."
Katie looks mildly shocked by her admission, but then she catches herself before she can really falter and smiles back warmly. "You're welcome."
As Naomi makes to leave again, she can't help but feel like it's the start of something new, that the first significant piece has finally fallen into place.
She doesn't see her mum again before she heads back to London the next morning, just leaves her a note that says, 'thanks for always being there - love Naomi x' and knows that her mum is smart enough to read between the lines and take all that she still struggles to say but means to.
The smell of coffee and bacon rush Naomi's senses the second she sets foot in the door, and it's almost strange when she realises that it doesn't feel wrong or intrusive for JJ to be sat in the kitchen eating breakfast with Effy and Bricker.
It feels nice, getting home to find her makeshift family looking more like a real family unit than she's ever seen them do before. Can't help herself from smiling when she sees Bricker perched on JJ's leg and watching in amazement at whatever magic trick JJ is wowing him with this time, while Effy stands over at the cooker and uses her spatula to prod at the food she's frying.
"Hope there's some left for me." Naomi says as she enters the room properly, giving herself away and smiling brightly when they all look up to greet her.
Bricker's the first one to say hello to her properly, jumping down from his place in JJ's lap and running over to her for a hug. She bobs down and pulls him in close, playfully placing kisses on his face and tickling him until he pulls away giggling.
JJ extends a goofy wave and a smile at her and says, "Glad you're back in one piece, not that you wouldn't be but--" He shakes his head to stop himself from continuing on his tangent. "These two have missed you, is what I was aiming to explain."
Effy rolls her eyes but shoots him a fond smile before moving over to wrap Naomi in a hug, clinging to her with a tight squeeze.
"Jesus, Eff, you're squeezing all the air out of me here." Naomi laughs, wrapping her arms around Effy in return.
"Shut up," Effy says hugging her tighter for a second just for added effect before pulling back and studying her face seriously, as if she's searching for signs of covered up damage. "Are you all right?"
It never fails to warm her heart when she sees the genuine worry in Effy's eyes, as if all of the effort she spent trying to pretend that she didn't give a fuck about anything or anyone has completely dwindled away over the years.
Naomi runs her hand up Effy's arm to ease her tension. "I'm okay, I promise. No physical damage."
"Good." Effy replies with a soft smile before glancing back over her shoulder at the frying pan. "You want a bacon sandwich and one of my famous strong cups of coffee?"
"Sounds good. Thanks." Naomi says as she joins JJ and Bricker at the table and tries not to let think about what Emily's doing back in Bristol, reminds herself to stay calm and wait for Emily to come to her.
She goes up to her room to catch up on lost sleep when they're finished with breakfast, excuses herself by stifling a yawn that wordlessly explains where she's headed.
When Naomi collapses onto her bed she instantly reaches out for the pillow next to her, the pillow Emily had slept on, and pulls it into her arms, hugging it close to her body and burying her nose firmly into the material to breath in the lingering scent of Emily's perfume.
It's become almost like a habit, to cuddle up to a pillow while she's asleep, but Naomi finds that the only time she properly sleeps is when she pretends its Emily wrapped up in her arms and sleeping peacefully beside her.
Morning always comes as a disappointment, one that stopped being surprising after the first three times, because she knows it's not really Emily that she falls asleep next to every night and yet Naomi still holds on to that little bit of hope that a miracle would have happened while she slept, and so she always blinks her eyes open slowly, wishing that her vision will be flooded with red.
It never is.
Naomi wakes to find Effy perched gently on the end of her bed, watching over her with a fond smile that makes Naomi sleepily flip her off as her eyes adjust, mumbles, "Since when did you turn into a creepy sleep watcher?"
She feels more than sees Effy smirk in response, and shuffles over rubbing at her eyes to get a better look at her. Effy merely grins wickedly and extends her cup of coffee, says, "Since you started randomly disappearing for days and only leaving an awfully vague note behind in your wake."
Naomi pushes herself up against the headboard and accepts the coffee from Effy's grasp, taking a few large sips to quell the dryness in her mouth. "Yeah, sorry about that, it was a bit shitty of me."
"Just a tad." Effy replies dryly.
"You were worried." Naomi states in amusement, watching as Effy shifts uncomfortably, and then laughs when Effy shoots her a glare. "You're so sweet and sensitive Effykins."
"Fuck off." Effy replies, trying not to smile at Naomi's teasing comment. She purses her lips together seriously a second later and looks over Naomi pensively, a look that Naomi knows that means Effy is quietly analysing her, and never fails to make her feel self-conscious. After a few long seconds Effy breathes, "No physical damage, then."
And just like that Effy's changed the direction of their conversation with one subtle comment. Naomi swallows another sip of the coffee and asks, "Where's JJ and Bricker?"
"JJ offered to take Bricker out for the afternoon." Effy replies willingly. "He wanted to give us some time alone... in case you wanted to talk."
"Talk," Naomi echoes and then releases a shaky breath. "About the damage I sustained that isn't physical?"
Effy smiles gently. "Only if you want to."
Naomi lets out a deep breath and reaches over to set the cup on her bedside table. "Well, after Rachel came here to let me know that she'd broken up with Emily so that I could have her back, I hurried on down to Bristol in a very knight in shining armour manner that I thought would impress Em, only to get there for her to tell me that us getting back together isn't going to happen anytime soon."
"Oh," Effy replies sadly. "Do you want to get drunk and fucked up? I'm sure I still have some weed lying around in the back of one of my draws."
"Thanks but that won't be necessary." Effy raises her eyebrows questioningly as Naomi runs a hand through her hair and then reaches over to swipe her cigarettes off of her bedside table, sticking one in her mouth and lighting it before throwing the pack and her lighter over to Effy. "I got some advice from an unexpected source."
"Who?" Effy asks, creasing her face up. "Please tell me Panda isn't still walking the streets of Bristol, because I can guarantee if she's your advice guru, then you've been duped."
Naomi shakes her head and exhales a trail of smoke. "As helpful as I'm sure she would have been, no, not Panda."
"It was Katie, actually."
She watches as Effy's hand stills mid motion to her mouth, her eyes widening in surprise. "Katie as in Katie Fitch? The girl who hates me and you, equally."
Naomi lets out an amused chuckle. "In all fairness I think she probably hates you more. I never dented her head with a rock and left her for dead, after all."
"No, just shagged her sister and left her heartbroken," Effy replies with a daring smirk and laughter glimmering in her eyes that takes the sting right out of her words.
"Ouch." Naomi lifts her hand to her chest mockingly. "Hit me where it hurts, why don't you."
"What was this so called advice from our lord and saviour Katie "leopardprint" Fitch?" Effy asks dryly.
Naomi can't help but smile and roll her eyes. "She's not that bad anymore, Eff. Believe it or not she appears to have grown up too." Effy nods in response and looks on at Naomi expectedly. "She just told me to come back to London and wait."
"Just wait?" Effy asks after a few seconds.
"Yeah." Naomi nods her head in confirmation. "She said Emily will come to me when she's ready to discuss things, but until then I should basically back off and give her some space."
"I see," Effy replies, licking the tip of her thumb and pinching the end of her cigarette, successfully putting it out.
Naomi watches her for a few seconds as Effy stands from the bed and heads over to her window, opening it and flicking out the dead cigarette butt, and when Effy doesn't willingly elaborate on her comment, Naomi pierces her with a look and says, "You think its shit advice?"
Effy turns back to her with an unreadable expression on her face and eventually says, "No. I think it's good advice."
"Really?" Naomi asks disbelievingly, still remotely feeling like she should be doing more to convince Emily that they should be together.
"I think Katie knows her sister better than we do in some respects."
"Yeah, I know, it's just..." Naomi sighs in agreement before trailing off. "I feel so helpless, and powerless just doing nothing." She sees as Effy's lips quirk up into a smile then and can't help herself asking, "What?"
"It's just interesting now that the roles are reversed." Effy says somewhat cryptically, and only continuing when she sees confusion registering on Naomi's face. "Now that you have to wait for Emily, after all that time she had to spend waiting for you to figure it out. It's just a little ironic, don't you think?"
"Yeah," Naomi replies quietly as Effy's words begin to sink in.
Just hopes that Emily won't make her wait as long as she made Emily wait for her, but knows deep down that in the end it doesn't actually matter, not when she'll happily resign herself to being patient forever if it means that there's any chance Emily will one day be hers again.
It takes Naomi a little while for that anxious itching sensation that creeps into her skin and invades her in every possible way- at every possible chance, to be pushed to the back of her mind. She knows it isn't healthy, to not be able to switch it off- thinking about Emily, worrying about whether Katie is right about being patient, or whether she's just waiting out a storm that will never end, but she can't help herself, not for the first few days when every minute that passes feels like an eternity.
She catches herself staring at her phone, willing it with her eyes to just ring, to be able to answer the call to hear Emily's voice on the other side of the line telling her that she's had time to think about it all and everything's fine now, that she's coming back to London, back to Naomi, and that they'll work the rest out together- but it doesn't happen. There's not even a text message or a voice mail, no word at all, from Emily or Katie, and it only serves to make Naomi feel worse, makes her think that perhaps she should have stayed in Bristol and forced Emily to talk to her, even when she knows deep down that it only would have made things worse for them all.
It gets unbearable towards the end of the that first week- being back at work and expecting to catch sight of Emily walking down the corridor through the sea of students or to walk into the staff room to be greeted by Emily sitting there waiting for her to share their lunch break, only to know in reality that she won't be anywhere around.
She feels like she almost drowning by the time Katie actually calls her - sometime during the second week - as if the longer she's away from Emily the further she gets dragged under the crashing waves and the harder she has to fight just to keep breathing on a daily basis.
"She's getting there," Katie says when Naomi answers her phone hurriedly. "Slowly."
And it makes Naomi feel like groaning, whinging in frustration because as much as she wants to give Emily the time and space she needs, the more she misses her; craves so badly just to see her as if Emily is an addiction that she can't stop wanting even when she knows she should.
"How slowly?" Naomi asks, trying not to sound too hopeful but failing completely.
Katie sighs. "I can't answer that, Naomi, you know that. You promised to be patient, so just be patient, all right."
"I'm trying, okay? It's just hard. I miss her," Naomi breathes, feeling pathetic and weak but not caring at all.
"Just a little bit longer, okay?" Katie says encouragingly, her voice gentle and sweet. "I've got to go, but I'll call you soon, yeah?"
Naomi nods, forgets that Katie can't see her and after a brief pause murmurs back, "Yeah, okay." and listens as the line goes dead- hopes that soon really does come sooner rather than later.
Katie starts calling daily by the fourth week, doesn't update Naomi much on Emily's progress other than saying, "She's getting there." much like she had done the very first time.
Only Naomi's learnt to stop asking what that means, because whenever she asks Katie goes silent before replying, "She just needs time." which does nothing but leave Naomi feeling like she's grasping out for answers that she's too short to reach; endlessly hoping but never getting her wish.
Instead she asks silly questions like, "Is she eating normally?" or "Is she talking much?" or "Has she smiled yet?" and it doesn't matter how many times she asks them, or how irritated Katie gets repeating the answers, it always makes Naomi feel that little bit more optimistic when Katie replies with something like, "She actually laughed today and looked like she wasn't about to crumble under the strain of everything, so keep waiting, yeah? I think she's healing."
Naomi knows it's not much, but it feels like enough for now.
The call in the sixth week is the one that cracks her, reduces her to sniffling on the phone because it finally feels like progress, maybe not necessarily for them, but for Emily, and it's only amplified by the way in which Katie delivers the news in such an overly happy way that she lisps heavily for the first time in ages.
"What's the news then?" Naomi asks cautiously when she picks up only to be greeted with Katie letting out a breath that sounds light rather than achingly heavy.
"She mentioned Rachel today," is all Katie replies with, and it forces a lump to lodge hard in Naomi's throat.
But Katie must pick up in the discontentment in her voice because a second later she replies, "No, no, not like that. She doesn't like, want to get back with her or anything, you silly twat."
Naomi releases a shaky breath at the answer, feeling relived and anxious all at the same time. "What did she say then?"
"That she feels guilty, Naomi."
"And?" Naomi asks sounding desperate.
She can almost hear Katie smiling through the phone when she says, "And she's trying to figure out a way to forgive herself."
It makes her eyes sting then, knowing that Emily's anger is beginning to pass, that she appears to be looking for a way to move forward and not back, is no longer standing still and punishing herself for damage she didn't ever mean to cause; the damage that Naomi knows was forgiven long ago.
Naomi doesn't manage to choke out more than, "Thank you." in response, and it doesn't matter a second later when Katie replies, "You're welcome." that she didn't mean it directly for her, is just thankful that it finally feels a little like the world is giving them all a second chance and letting them gradually move on.
Katie doesn't call in the seventh week.
It fills Naomi with worry that there's been a setback and when she can't get hold of Katie no matter how many times she tries, she ends up crying herself to sleep and wonders if hoping alone is enough to keep her surviving through this never ending wait.
Doesn't think it is.
She feels like shit on Monday morning, turns off her alarm and buries herself back under the covers with a groan, doesn't think she can face another day pretending that she's okay when all she wants to do is fall apart and hope that Emily will magically show up to hold her together.
Her plan is foiled moments later when she feels her mattress dip ever so slightly, the weight of a small body climbing over her own until the covers are drawn away from her face by small hands and Bricker's cheeky grin.
"Morning, Nae!" He bellows happily, bouncing up and down and causing his body to crash land over her stomach and steal the air from her lungs.
"Brickster," Naomi wheezes back, managing to free her arms and remove him from on top of her, and pulls him in for a cuddle instead.
Bricker wiggles in her grip though and pats his palm against her cheek. "You can't go back to sleeps, Nae, it's naughty." She blinks her eyes open and tries not to frown at him for being annoyingly right. "I want toast," he adds, shuffling until he's on his knees and tugging at her arm.
"Where's your mum? Can't she get you it?" Naomi asks irritably as she rubs tiredly at her eyes.
He stares back at her in response, his eyes blinking rapidly and his expression practically neutral as if he's suddenly lost track of what they're talking about, and it's only when Naomi notices his bottom lip quivering that she realises she's taking her frustration out on a four year old.
She reaches for him before he can scamper away and presses a kiss to the tip of his nose. "Sorry Brickster, I was being grumpy. We'll go get your toast, okay?" He nods mutely in response and runs off out of her room before she has a chance to trail behind him.
By the time she gets downstairs, she's just in time to see Effy kissing JJ goodbye at the door, scantily clad in a button up shirt that Naomi instantly clocks as something of JJ's. Effy looks almost surprised to see her when she closes the door and turns around, a faint blush spreading across her face.
"Sleep over?" Naomi teases, cocking her eyebrow.
Effy fakes a cough and tucks a piece of loose hair behind her ear. "He was just-- well..." She looks up when Naomi laughs and flips her off. "Fine, he stayed over."
"No wonder I slept like shit, I was wondering what that squeaking was." Naomi waggles her eyebrows and accepts the shove Effy issues her as they make their way into the kitchen. "Seriously though, good night?" If anything the question only serves to make Effy blush harder and Naomi laughs. "I'll take that as a yes."
Effy ruffles her hand through Bricker's hair as she passes by him to flick the kettle on, turning back when he tugs at her arm. "What's the matter, sweetheart?"
Naomi watches as his eyes drift over to her before flicking away quickly and instantly feels a stab of guilt settle painfully in her chest."I was a C-O-W to him this morning," Naomi mumbles sadly and offers Effy an apologetic look even as she reaches her arms out for Bricker. "Nae's sorry she was mean this morning. I promise I'll put extra jam on your toast, okay?" Bricker looks over at her unsurely and it leaves Naomi feeling desperate to make it up to him. "Can I have a hug, Brickster?"
He looks momentarily reluctant before letting go of Effy's hand and willingly moving into Naomi's arms for a hug. She squeezes him tightly and presses a kiss to his little shoulder, and whispers 'sorry' again.
"Toast with extra jam, Nae." Bricker grins at her when he pulls away and Naomi feels herself rush with overwhelming relief.
"Coming right up, buddy." She smiles brightly at him before setting about making his toast, trying to ignore the look Effy's shooting at her but failing miserably. "I'm sorry I upset him, okay? I didn't mean to."
"Nae, I know that but," Effy shakes her head as Naomi passes Bricker over his plate of toast and then looks back at Naomi wearily. "Are you all right?"
Naomi runs a hand messily through her hair and lets out a heavy sigh. "Yeah, I'm fine... I just, I miss her so much Eff, I feel like I'm suffocating here without her and I know I'm powerless to do anything." She shrugs tiredly. "It's just getting to me, I guess."
Effy smiles softly and squeezes her arm. "She'll be back soon, okay? I promise."
Naomi takes a bite of her own toast and mumbles back a helpless, "I hope so."
By the time the bell rings to signal the end of the day, Naomi's about ready to scream. It's not that she doesn't enjoy her job, but somehow it's become something that feels like a task more than a pleasure to be doing, and Naomi hates the way that it fills her days and yet doesn't seem to fast forward any time at all; her mind always occupied with Emily, stuck on an endless loop that she can't get to stop playing no matter how hard she tries.
She waits until the last of her students have filed out of the room before collapsing down at her desk and rubbing her hands over her face. It seems pointless to go home when all she seems capable of doing lately is emitting her bad mood to those around her; doesn't have the desire to put that unhappy look on Bricker's face for a second time in one day. She settles for getting on with some of her marking instead, feeling as though she might as well try and be productive in her misery instead of wallowing in self-pity.
Naomi loses track of time as she works and barely registers the faint knocking sound coming from the door a little while later, throws her hand up in the air and waves it dismissively without looking. "I'm busy, any chance you can come back?"
It goes eerily quiet then, whichever one of her co-works choosing aggravatingly not to answer, and Naomi momentarily grates her teeth together before turning towards the door with a forced smile that quickly slips from her face when her vision floods with red.
Emily looks back at her from her place in the doorway and purses her lips together with a small shrug before extending a quiet greeting. "Hey."
And just like that Naomi finds that she can't breathe, doesn't believe that Emily can really be standing there in front of her and so she blinks her eyes several times until she's sure that she hasn't gone crazy and conjured up a hallucination out of desperation.
But it doesn't change anything, Emily's still standing there, looking nervous and a little awkward and all Naomi can do is stare back at her silently, her voice failing her completely as her mouth opens and closes wordlessly.
"Effy said you'd be working late," Emily murmurs after a few long moments, filling in the heavy silence that's settled around them. Naomi watches as she shuffles uncomfortably on her feet before continuing, "I should go. You're busy. I'm interrupting."
It's only when Emily actually turns to leave that Naomi feels her body moving closer to her on instinct, her voice a little hoarse when she says, "No. Stay." Emily turns back to face her slowly and Naomi finds her voice lodging in her throat, her words coming out thick and heavy when she eventually manages to breathe, "You're here."
It comes out a little disbelievingly and Emily's eyes flash in surprise before she nods her head in response, her own voice coming out a little choked. "Yeah, I am."
And they're close enough now that they could touch, and Naomi has to swallow hard, has to ball her hands into fists just to stop herself from reaching out over the remaining distance and pulling Emily into her arms. Knows that she's not allowed to touch, doesn't have any rights too yet, and it's that thought alone that jars her back to the moment.
Naomi wants to ask, wants to know if Emily's decided anything but she knows she can't, doesn't want to pressurise Emily into anything so soon, and so she settles for asking, "How are you?"
Emily looks relieved by her question, the tension in her shoulders dwindling and the corners of her lips tugging up into a barely visible smile. "I'm okay... you?"
"I'm fine." Naomi nods her head in response, doesn't know how to say that she's not, that she's aching just to touch her, to tell Emily that she's sorry and that she loves her, without making Emily feel like she's suffering an emotional ambush.
"Good," Emily replies with a tight smile, and averts her eyes briefly, as if looking at Naomi directly will ruin her control in a second. When she finally does meet Naomi's eyes again, Naomi can tell that she's nervous just by the way she bites at her bottom lip before asking, "Can we go somewhere and talk?"
Naomi barely manages to ignore the way her heart is pounding rapidly in her chest and smiles softly back at her. "Yeah, sure. Where are you thinking of?"
"Someplace with coffee," Emily responds with a small smile of her own, looking slightly more relaxed with each passing second. "I'm sure you must be tired and in dying need of something to keep you going, right?"
"Yeah," Naomi murmurs back, her eyes trailing over Emily's face and drinking her in.
You have no idea.
It feels surprisingly awkward, or maybe not so surprisingly given the circumstances, but it does nothing but leave Naomi feeling like she's floundering dangerously on shaky ground; wavering closer and closer to tumbling down hard without any hopes of ever getting up.
She isn't sure what she's supposed to say, not after that last time they'd spoken where Emily told her to leave her alone, and it's not that Naomi doesn't know, doesn't understand that it was probably said out of haste and confusion, it's that she doesn't know where to start from now, isn't sure what's acceptable to ask and what's not or whether it's just too soon for all of those questions that really need answers.
And so she sits silently, lets Emily order their coffees and sips at hers slowly, savouring the way the hot liquid quells the ever lingering dryness in her mouth; her throat still feeling uncomfortably lodged with everything she wants to say and can't.
Emily looks equally tense, her shoulders hunched and her brow knitted as she actively avoids looking in Naomi's direction, focusing all of her attention intently on her coffee cup instead.
It isn't until Naomi feels like she's suffocating, like all of the air is being sucked away from her lungs while the room closes in on them, that she finally cracks, whispers out a shaky, "So..."
Emily's gaze shifts to her at once, and Naomi quickly becomes aware of the unease on Emily's face as their eyes meet. Emily echoes the word and looks away from her again as she releases a shuddering breath.
It feels like forever before Emily finally blurts, "Things have to be different." and Naomi finds her head whipping in Emily's direction, desperate to see her eyes and any meaning that might lie within them. Only Emily keeps her head ducked for the most part, and Naomi can only put it down to Emily trying to shield herself from her, as if Naomi's the ticking bomb they're all waiting to go off; the explosion that will finally destroy them completely.
She swallows hard and nods her head understandably, says, "Of course."
Emily looks up at her then, daringly, her eyes clouded with emotion Naomi can't decipher quick enough. "Things have to change. We have to change. It can't keep-- everything's different now, Naomi." She lets out a shaky breath before adding, "We're different now." Naomi stays silent as Emily stares back at her for a long moment. "We can't just be together."
"I know," Naomi murmurs, offering Emily a soft smile.
And she does know. Had known from the moment that Emily walked away from her at the lake that things couldn't be that simple for them, and why should it be; love isn't easy, it never had been for them but Naomi knows now that it doesn't mean they should just give up. She can't.
Naomi sees the worry settling over Emily with every passing second that she remains silent and reminds herself that this is the moment she's been waiting for, the moment where she can take the lead, guide Emily through their battlefield and safely to the other side; prove herself trustworthy and dependable.
"Why don't we start with something simple," Naomi suggests, smiling gently as Emily looks up at her in anticipation.
"Like what?" Emily asks unsurely.
Naomi does the only thing she can think of then and lifts her cup to her mouth to swallow a mouthful of her drink before grinning at Emily encouragingly. "We could have coffee."
Emily quirks her eyebrow, regarding Naomi by letting out an amused sigh. "Have coffee?"
"Exactly." Naomi nods her head definitively. "We can just... sit together, and drink coffee just for the sake of being together for a little while." She sees the sceptical look that appears on Emily's face a second later and adds, "Just as friends. We don't even have to talk to each other, we can just--"
"Be?" Emily cuts in with a small smile.
Naomi smiles. "Yeah. We can just stay like this for a bit, okay?"
Emily nods. "I'd like that."
"Me too," Naomi replies honestly and then glances at her watch before looking back at Emily. "Another cup?"
"Yeah, that'd be nice." Emily slides her cup towards Naomi, stilling her hand when their fingers brush and looking up at Naomi with a mild blush covering her cheeks. "Thanks."
Naomi takes a second to enjoy the touch and then grasps the cup, smiles at Emily and says, "You're welcome."
When Emily smiles back at her, beautifully, fully, for the first time that night, Naomi feels a twinge of hope settle heavily in her chest and feels the way her heart aches less with each second she spends in Emily's company.
They don't say much but Naomi doesn't mind, not when each night they stay out together a little later than the night before, and she can't help but wonder if the silence is slowly healing them both.
"So, you just... have coffee?" Effy asks when Naomi gets home on the seventh night.
Naomi hangs her coat up and slips out of her shoes. "Yeah."
Effy stares at her pensively. "And you don't say anything to each other?"
Naomi tries her hardest not to roll her eyes when she smiles back, knows her lack of information is beginning to bother Effy greatly but doesn't want to risk jinxing the newfound balance she and Emily seem to have found. "Pretty much, yeah."
Effy lets out a sigh and follows Naomi into the kitchen. "How is not talking about it helping either of you, Nae?"
Naomi lights up a cigarette and inhales several deep breathes of it before saying, "You tell me, you were the one who was silent for a year." She watches as Effy opens her mouth to respond and then closes it when her mind seems to cut her off with a thought or perhaps a memory.
It's a couple of hours later when they're heading up to bed that Effy finally speaks again. "Silence does help, it's peaceful and calming... but it can also be stifling after awhile, Nae."
She kisses Naomi on the cheek then and disappears into her room and it's only once Naomi's lying awake in bed twenty minutes later that she thinks about whether she and Emily are starting to get lost amongst the bubble of silent safety they're created together; thinks that maybe they might be.
She sends Emily a text the following morning and feels physically sick until her phone flashes with Emily's reply of, 'Yeah, okay. Later today, 12 o'clock, Oxford Street? E x'
It leaves Naomi feeling entirely nervous, hopes that trying to take the next step forward won't lead to them taking two backwards.
Emily looks up at her with a small smile when she sees Naomi approaching, and it's only a little awkward when they stand staring at each other motionless before Naomi breaks out into a nervous grin of her own that has Emily rolling her eyes.
"Shopping, then?" Emily asks quizzically. "I thought you hated spending hours being dragged round the shops, all that man-made material and animal corpses?"
Naomi smirks back at her in response. "Jesus, I'm not that bad anymore. I learnt quickly that if I wanted to dress a little less like a charity shop reject then I'd have to suffer at the hands of the high street retailers."
Emily holds her hand up to her chest and teases, "Katie would be so proud."
Naomi laughs, feeling any tension she had quickly leaving her body, and loving how they're slowly slipping back into their playful banter. "I wouldn't go that far, I'm still highly against animal print. Leopard especially."
Emily mocks a gasp and then laughs. "Katie would be offended. I take my earlier comment back."
"So," Naomi says gesturing to some of the shops. "Shall we make a start on our shopping hell?"
"You just said you liked shopping now." Emily looks at her in amusement and grins when Naomi dramatically rolls her eyes in response.
"Right," Naomi replies lightly. "I meant adventure, not hell, obviously."
Emily lets out a sigh and touches Naomi's arm. "You're useless."
Naomi tries not to draw attention to Emily's touch but it's too late, Emily looks down at her hand resting on Naomi's arm and quickly withdraws it. Naomi tries not to let her disappointment show, offers Emily a smile instead and says, "Good thing you're here to help me then."
It feels like a wave of relief is washing over her when Emily meets her eye and hesitantly replies, "Yeah, I guess it is."
They're not really looking at anything in particular, just browsing for the sake of shopping- for the sake of spending some time together- when Naomi spots it a little while into their outing. She picks it up immediately, feeling nostalgic and curious all at the same time as she runs it through her fingers.
"Do you still wear these?" Naomi asks, unable to help herself as she holds the little blue bow up in front of Emily's eyes.
Emily scrunches her face up and pierces her with a sarcastic look. "Are you being serious?"
Naomi nods; glancing down at the bow and feeling herself blush. "Well, yeah, I just--"
Emily laughs, "No, I don't still wear bows, Naomi. I'm not still sixteen, y'know. A lot's changed."
"Of course," Naomi replies, feeling overwhelmingly embarrassed as she hurries to put the bow back, averting Emily's gaze the whole time.
It feels tense again then, when she rejoins Emily, as if with one stupid comment she's managed to put the barrier back between them, and Naomi has to fight hard not to sigh in frustration. They don't speak anymore as they look around the shop, and it isn't until Emily pipes up and suggests they grab some food that things start to feel a little better.
Naomi can feel Emily's eyes on her as she eats; it feels like she's scorching her skin just by looking at her. It's too much, far too much, especially when she can't really do anything to bring up the reasons behind their thick tension.
"What?" She murmurs quietly, unable to handle it anymore.
Emily just stares back at her for a long moment before saying, "I'm sorry about earlier, about the bow. It's just... I'm not the same girl I was at sixteen, Naomi. I had to grow up and change. I matured in ways that I hadn't thought possible back then. Life didn't turn out to be as simple or as magical as I thought it would be."
Naomi can't stop herself from releasing a deep sigh, because finally, finally they're going to stop dodging it all and start talking about it. It feels like a massive relief when she nods her head and replies, "I know. I see that."
"Do you?" Emily fires back at her with an unsure shrug. "Because we still don't really know each other, Naomi. We've missed out on so much."
Naomi feels her chest clenching, aching in response to Emily's words, but she knows it's true, they have missed out on a lot, and maybe Emily's right, maybe that's the problem, that even now, they still don't know each other as well as they should, as well as they think they do.
"You grew up, Em. But so did I." Naomi swallows hard and looks over at Emily softly. "You need to believe that I'm not still that girl who was scared and confused by everything and always ran away from you because she didn't know what she wanted. I had to learn about life too." Naomi shrugs her shoulders and smiles gently. "But you're right, maybe we don't know each other as well as we think we do."
Emily stays silent for a long moment, looking over at Naomi intently as though she's digesting her words carefully. "What do we do now then?"
Naomi offers her a bright smile. "Now, we get to know each other all other again, start fresh. Stop holding onto those expectations we have of the past us, yeah?"
Emily nods back in response, a smile forming on her own lips when she says, "Yeah, okay."
It feels like a beginning.
It feels a little bit like she's meeting Emily for the first time all over again.
They keep up with their daily coffee routine, only this time they fill the silence with talk and questions, and each night Naomi feels like she's discovered something new, loves that she gets to ask all the things she always wanted to know but never dared to ask.
And it seems to be the same for Emily, whose eyes light up whenever she waits for Naomi to reply with her answer, her smile bright and eager as if she wants nothing more than to know everything about Naomi that she possibly can.
Naomi can't help but feel like it's slowly coming together, that they're leisurely gluing each other back together as they take the time to find out the things they didn't know, relearn they things they did, and savour all of the things they've missed out on.
"How are things going on the Emily front?" Effy asks when Naomi gets home from work one night, passing Bricker another one of his cars.
Naomi joins them on the living room floor, ruffling Bricker's hair as she sits down. "Good, I think. We're taking it slow still, rebuilding 'us' one part at a time, y'know?"
Effy nods, flashing her a smile and rolling a car in her direction. "Have you kissed her yet?"
Naomi balks, drops the car she's holding and looks back at Effy with wide eyes. "No, we're not-- we haven't really, touched yet... at all."
"Not even held hands?"
"No," Naomi replies glumly, suddenly realising that the most contact they've shared was when they both went to pay for their coffees and their hands brushed and neither of them pulled away for a few long seconds. "I don't want to push anything too soon."
Effy stares at her pointedly. "She's been back for nearly a month, Nae, and you see her every day, surely you're making more progress than just talking, but not really taking about how much you love each other?"
Naomi sighs deeply. "She still seems a little... reluctant, sometimes, like she's still waiting for me to mess up."
The doorbell rings a second later and cuts off Effy's chance to reply, leaves Naomi thinking desperately about what she can do to try and dispel Emily's worries. Effy returns a second later with JJ in toe, and Naomi smiles as Bricker holds out a car to him and babbles out some information that flies over her head but seems to interest JJ completely.
"I don't know what to suggest," Effy says, looking over at Naomi and continuing their conversation.
JJ looks over at her then, curiosity written over his face. "Suggest about what?"
"Naomi's worried that Ems still thinks she's going to do a runner again. She hasn't said anything to you, has she, babe?" Effy asks, moving to join JJ on the couch and instantly placing her hand on his knee.
JJ looks down at it, seemingly momentarily distracted by Effy's affectionate touch before swallowing hard and blinking rapidly at Naomi. "Emily hasn't spoken badly about the situation developing between you at all. In fact, I'd say, that gauging by her reactions, she seems rather pleased with the way things are going."
Naomi lets out a breath and smiles at him. "That's good to hear. I just want us to keep moving forward, and I don't know how to do that if Emily keeps subconsciously expecting me to trip up and screw her over."
JJ scratches at his head for a second before lighting up with a pleased smile. "This is a complete and utter coincidence, but I think I may have organised something for the children this week that may be effective in helping you achieve your desire to get Emily to start building her belief in you. Bring Emily over to the school Monday night when you've both finished work, I'll leave something set up for you."
She glances over at Effy who merely shrugs in response, clearly not clued in on whatever line of thinking JJ has just gone off in, and so Naomi shrugs and nods her head, not daring to ask whatever crazy but probably entirely logical idea JJ has to fix them.
"Not a problem." He grins happily before lifting his arm and wrapping it around Effy's shoulders, pulling her in closer to his side and planting a chaste kiss on her lips, obviously happy with himself for being so thoughtful.
Naomi doesn't say anything else, just calls Bricker's name and rolls the car she's been holding back to him, watching in amazement as it stays perfectly on the course she set it on, and hopes that whatever JJ has planned will keep her and Emily moving steadily forward on the right path.
Emily looks just as baffled as she felt originally (when JJ explained to her what his idea was) when she tells her where they're headed. "Wait a minute; let me get this straight, Jay set this... whatever it is we're supposed to be doing, up for us?"
Naomi glances at Emily and nods quickly before turning her attention back to the road, "Yeah."
"And you're still not going to tell me what it is?"
Naomi sees Emily glaring curiously at her out of the side of her eye and smirks. "No. Like I told you, it's a surprise."
She hears Emily huff a second later and hopes that she's not going to make a total idiot out of herself for even attempting JJ's mad idea- which at the time he'd filled her in with more detail, hadn't seemed like such a bad idea at all. But maybe that's just because she had none of her own, Naomi remembers as she pulls the car into the school and parks, praying that this doesn't go completely tits up.
Emily follows next to her as they enter the school, unlocking the door with the key's JJ leant Naomi and switching the lights on as they head towards the main school hall. Naomi takes a deep breath before opening the door, doesn't quite know what she's expecting to see given that the children JJ helps out with only age up to nine.
It looks surprisingly well set up, the little makeshift assault course and Naomi barely has time to register it all before Emily appears next to her and lets out a breathy laugh.
"Please tell me that you're joking and we're not actually in this school after hours to fool around on what appears to be children's climbing frames and play things."
Naomi bites at her lip nervously but can't help breaking out into a grin. "What's the problem, Em? Worried I'll be better at all of the games then you?"
Emily laughs and rolls her eyes. "What are we doing here really? Because I'm starting to get worried that you might have lost it."
"I have actually...." Naomi trails off, heading over to the chairs and retrieving the scarf. Emily's eyes widen in confusion when Naomi appears back in front of her holding it out before her. She feels her throat tightening at the next words she wants to say and just manages a skittish smile and a whispered, "Your trust, I mean. Or maybe I just never really had it, I don't know."
"Naomi..." Emily breathes sadly.
Naomi shakes her head. "No, it's fine. Well, it's not but..." She gestures her arms out at the little assault course. "I thought maybe I could have a go at building yours in me."
Emily averts her gaze then, looking down at her feet and Naomi can see the tension creeping back into Emily's body at the way she seems to stiffen with what Naomi may be suggesting. It makes Naomi desperate to prove Emily wrong, to take away that fear that Emily rightfully has of her, doesn't want her to be scared that Naomi doesn't mean what she says and does this time around.
"I'll go first," Naomi says, cutting through the silence and lifting the scarf up to her eyes, reaching behind her head to tie it at the back and forming a blindfold.
She feels Emily reach for her arm to steady her when she wobbles a bit, can hear the concern lacing Emily's voice as she holds her still. "Naomi, I don't think this is a good idea. Let's just go get coffee or something, yeah?"
Naomi shakes her head and says convincingly. "I trust you." She hears Emily release a shaky breath and smiles, hoping that it'll ease Emily's nerves. "Come on Em." She holds her hand out blindly when she adds, "All you have to do is hold my hand and guide me round, it'll be fun, okay? I know you'd never let me get hurt, so just, trust yourself and trust me for once, yeah?"
It goes quiet again and Naomi feels her hope sinking with every second longer that Emily doesn't reply, considers taking the scarf off and giving up in utter defeat, but just as the thought enters her head, she feels Emily's hands taking hold of her own and tugging her forward ever so slightly.
"You're such an annoying cow for making me do this," Emily mutters, walking her forward.
"I know, but it wouldn't be the same if I wasn't still a bit of a cunt, would it?" Naomi smirks, feeling slightly disorientated that she's being moved without being able to see a thing.
Emily laughs and tugs her slightly, muttering, 'left a bit, okay stand still there' under her breath and Naomi feels Emily's hand squeeze at her own as she asks, "Ready?"
Naomi nods encouragingly, and says "Definitely." as she lets Emily lead and instruct her blindly around all of the obstacles without a flicker of worry.
"Told you it'd be fine," Naomi says, untying the blindfold and blinking a few times to adjust her vision back to the light. "Your turn now."
Emily nods sheepishly and hesitantly ties the scarf around her own eyes, instantly reaching out and holding at Naomi's arm tightly as her breathing quickens out of nowhere. It makes Naomi's heart clench, seeing Emily so worked up, so scared just to believe in her, that it makes Naomi carefully unwrap Emily's fingers from her arm and push the blindfold up Emily's head until she can connect their eyes.
Emily stares back at her with an anxious look clouding her eyes and Naomi can't think of any other way to prove herself than to repeat what she's already said. She offers Emily a gentle smile and murmurs, "Trust me, Emily. I promise you that nothing bad will happen, all right?"
She waits until Emily silently nods before lowering the blindfold back over her eyes and taking her hands in her own, slowly leading Emily forwards.
It feels like a small victory, whenever Emily squeezes tightly at her hands, or shuffles her feet reluctantly, that all Naomi has to do is brush her thumb across the back of Emily's hand and whisper, "I've got you." before Emily relaxes again and follows Naomi's command.
Emily's breathing is back to normal by the time they're finished and when Naomi pushes the blindfold down from Emily's eyes and smiles at her, she sees the look of shock, of realisation that emerges across Emily's face when she sees that Naomi's still there standing in front of her, and still gently holding on to one of her hands.
It makes Naomi's stomach flutter happily when Emily's lips curl up into a beautiful smile a second later as she glances down at their hands, still joined, still holding each other steady and for the first time, looks back at Naomi like she believes her when Naomi says, "I promised I'd look after you."
"Yeah," Emily whispers, her eyes never straying from Naomi's, "You did."
Naomi can't help but think that for an idea that she had thought was rather stupid, it had worked out rather well.
"How did it go?" Effy asks as Naomi settles down onto the couch next to her, instantly putting her feet up in Effy's lap.
"Your boy did good, Eff. You need to make sure you reward him well for helping your best mate out." Naomi chuckles when Effy blushes slightly, never getting tired of seeing Effy so easily flustered and happy.
Effy's quiet for a few seconds, gently rubbing at Naomi's feet while she watches the TV, and it's only when she hears Naomi release a content sigh that she asks, "Did you make her trust you?"
Naomi blinks open her eyes sleepily, and smiles happily. "No, I did better."
"Oh?" Effy asks, her eyebrows rising.
"I think I made her believe that she can," Naomi replies unable to stop her lips curling up into a smile. "If she just lets herself."
Effy smiles back at her softly, and squeezes gently at her feet just once, a silent 'well done' passing between them as they both turn back to watch the television.
She makes plans with Emily on the following Sunday- nothing fancy just a trip to the cinema to see the latest romantic comedy that Emily's been banging on about- but Naomi instantly fills with dread when the clock strikes, 11.a.m. and Emily still hasn't arrived to pick her up.
Her worry only intensifies as the minutes drag on, and when Naomi can't get hold of Emily on her phone, she starts feeling sick with panic, fear washing over her and making her desperately search her memory to make sure that she hasn't done something wrong.
She can't think of anything and by 12.30.p.m. Naomi's practically frantic, her phone glued to her hand as she clenches at it tightly and urges it to ring- for Emily's number to flash up on the screen and for her to offer Naomi some simple explanation like she got the days muddled up or that she over slept. She just hopes this isn't Emily's way of telling her that she's done with it all again.
The rain hammers down heavily against the window, and Naomi closes her eyes and tries to focus on the sound each drop makes as it hits the glass, tries to keep her mind occupied so that she doesn't stare achingly at her phone or the clock and go completely mad wondering where Emily could possibly be.
She hears the doorbell ring a few minutes later and rushes to the door as quickly as she can, hoping that she'll open it to reveal Emily with an apologetic smile, one that Naomi can erase quickly with one of her own and make herself easily forget that she was ever worried at all.
"Sorry I'm late," Emily says through chattering teeth, her hair clinging to her face and her clothes dripping with water. "My fucking piece of shit car broke down, and I'd left my phone at home and I couldn't find a taxi and well, I just walked here in the end, I didn't want you to think I wasn't coming."
Naomi looks at her with wide eyes, momentarily frozen to the spot before quickly pulling herself together and dragging Emily into the house. "Are you bloody crazy? What the hell were you thinking walking here in torrential rain, Em-- Jesus, you're going to get yourself sick, we have to get you out of those wet clothes."
Emily shakes her head and mutters, "Naomi, I'm fine, seriously. Let's just go to the movie, okay? I'm sure they have an afternoon showing."
"Don't be stupid, Em." Naomi frowns back at her. "Look, I'll lend you some clothes and we'll put yours straight in the wash, they'll be done in no time and we can go to the cinema tonight, yeah? There's no way I'm letting you keep those clothes on."
She immediately sees the way Emily's eyes widen, her lips quirking up in amusement that makes Naomi blush and look away from her. "Fine, you win," Emily says, nodding her head a little sheepishly.
Naomi smiles and beckons her upstairs. "Come on, I'll get you a towel to dry off with and then we'll find you some clothes to borrow."
Emily follows behind mutely, accepting the towel with a small smile before rubbing it over her face and through the ends of her hair. Naomi leads Emily into her room and tries not to think about the last time they were in it together, and avoids looking directly at Emily when she passes her an old pair of sweat-pants and a baggy jumper.
"I'll erm... leave you to get changed in here and go and make us something hot to drink," Naomi babbles nervously as Emily accepts the clothes and gingerly places them down on the end of Naomi's bed.
Emily swallows loudly and tries not to meet Naomi's gaze. "Thanks, I will-- I'll bring my stuff down when I'm changed."
"Sure, no problem." Naomi flashes Emily a quick smile before awkwardly back stepping out of the room and closing the door behind herself, sinking back against it and releasing a deep breath that she didn't realise she was holding.
Naomi's adding the milk into their cups of tea when Emily remerges, and Naomi can't help but notice how Emily looks entirely too tiny and delicate dressed in her baggy clothes as she cautiously holds out her pile of wet ones for Naomi to take. She feels her cheeks flushing as she puts Emily's clothes into the washing machine, trying unsuccessfully to ignore Emily's lacy black underwear as she fumbles with the buttons and puts it on.
Emily's still chattering her teeth together when Naomi straightens back up and she can see cold chill that runs through her body and leaves Emily shivering. It makes her reach out unthinkingly and rub her hands up and down Emily's arms, as if trying to pass some of her own heat over to Emily just to help warm her. Naomi hears Emily's surprised intake of breath and suddenly realises what she's doing, stills her hands slowly and meets Emily's eyes skittishly.
"Sorry..." Naomi breathes, feeling as though she's just overstepped the mark without meaning too, and when Emily doesn't react straight away, just stares back at Naomi in shock- in something that Naomi can't decipher, Naomi feels her chest tightening as the air around them thickens out of nowhere.
When she starts to withdraw her hands Emily gently shakes her head and murmurs, "No, don't."
It almost feels like it's happening in slow motion then, when Naomi nods her head back in response and holds her breath as Emily tentatively moves into her arms and presses their bodies together; her arms winding round and hugging Naomi to her.
Naomi feels Emily release a sigh against her and instantly slides her arms further around Emily's body, burying her nose into the crook of Emily's shoulder and closing her eyes as she breathes her in, taking a moment just to enjoy the feeling of holding Emily closely against her.
It still surprises Naomi every time, how right it seems to have Emily in her arms, how they seem to fit against each other perfectly, and it makes her instinctively tighten her hold a little, afraid that if she doesn't Emily will slip away from her.
They stay like that for what feels like forever but can surely only be a few minutes, and Emily's the first to pull back slightly, her cheeks a little pink and her smile tentative but present when she whispers, "Thanks."
It makes Naomi's breath catch, at just how beautiful Emily really is, even when her make-up's run and her hair is damp and curling and she can't help herself from staring, from letting herself just take the moment in, relishing in the slight vulnerability in Emily's eyes and the comfort in her touch.
"I've missed you," Naomi murmurs back with without thinking, and immediately feels flushed and worried that she's said too much too soon.
But Emily just smiles at her again, a little fuller this time, softer, and runs her hand down Naomi's arm, curling her fingers around Naomi's hand and giving it a gentle squeeze that speaks all the words she's not quite ready to say aloud yet.
Naomi doesn't mind that she doesn't say anything in response, just takes hope and comfort from Emily's touch and feels thankful that she finally got to hold her again, even if it was only for a little while.
Things get a little easier then, the overwhelming tension between them shifting ever so slightly and allowing them both to relax more, fleeting touches no longer seeming to trouble them and lingering embraces quickly become part of their daily routine.
Each gentle and tentative caress offered meaning much more than any passionate and hasty moment they might share could, especially when Naomi knows that they both feel every single part of what's happening between them so much more as they take the time to savour it all unhurriedly.
She invites Emily over for dinner, wants to cook for her to try and make their evening seem more like a date rather than just another one of their get-togethers. Naomi doesn't call it a date when she mentions it to Emily, but knows just by the way Emily stared back at her a little hesitantly before agreeing, that she picked up on the subtle way in which Naomi pitched it too her.
Effy helps her prepare the food because as much as Naomi might all be about trying lately, she's still 'a useless tit' in the kitchen who's more likely to burn something than to cook it to perfection. Effy suggests something simple, and they settle for some kind of Spanish pasta dish that Naomi's never heard of but that Effy insists is delicious.
Naomi tells her to bugger off shortly after the food's started cooking, doesn't want Effy around to tease her while she turns into some nervous little school girl who's never been on a date before, and so with a quick peck to Naomi's cheek, Effy gather's Bricker up and heads over to JJ's, leaving Naomi alone to anxiously get ready.
Emily arrives shortly after, dressed beautifully in a long gray skirt and blouse that leaves Naomi feeling more than a little breathless and heated when she sees the way it leaves a hefty amount of Emily's cleavage on display.
"So..." Emily says nervously, drawing Naomi's eyes swiftly back up to her face. "Thanks for inviting me over, it smells great, whatever it is that you're cooking."
Naomi licks at her lips and nods her head, trying to get her thoughts back on track. "It's some kind of pasta dish." Emily quirks an eyebrow and smirks when Naomi doesn't continue her explanation. "Effy helped me," Naomi admits sheepishly as they enter the kitchen. "She's a far better cook than I'll ever be, so I can assure you that you won't be leaving here with food poisoning."
Emily chuckles. "You should have said if you didn't want to cook, we could have gone out."
"No, I wanted to cook for you." Naomi murmurs, feeling herself blush as Emily smiles at her shyly.
"Well, thanks. I appreciate it." Emily shifts uncomfortably on her feet and glances away from Naomi, the awkward tension shifting back in between them.
"Wine," Naomi blurts, feeling embarrassed when Emily looks back up at her with amusement clouding her eyes. "I mean, do you want a drink?"
Emily smiles brightly. "That'd be great thanks."
Naomi can't stop her hand from shaking as she attempts to pour the wine into the glasses, feels the nervous fluttering in her stomach spreading throughout her whole body when Emily's hand covers her own a second later.
"Relax, Nae," Emily whispers, steadying Naomi's hand and looking up at her with a soft smile.
Naomi releases a shaky breath. "Sorry..."
Emily carefully removes Naomi's hand from the bottle and says, "Why don't you check on the food, I'll pour the wine, yeah?"
"Yeah, good idea," Naomi says slowly shifting her attention away from Emily as she sets about checking and serving up the pasta.
Naomi makes a mental note to thank Effy when Emily takes her first bite and lets out an appreciative sound and then has to try hard for the rest of the meal not to think of similar noises that Emily makes that sound equally good if not better; has to remind herself that this is not where their evening together is headed.
Their night together passes quickly, neither of them noticing the time as they sit together drinking and talking in the living room, simply enjoying each other's company and relaxing by degrees as the alcohol starts to work its way into their systems.
It's only when they've somehow managed to shift close enough together that their thighs are pressing together and brushing ever so slightly whenever they laugh that Emily seems to sober a little, cautiously moving away from Naomi and glancing over at the clock.
"I should go," Emily murmurs as she takes in the time. "It's late."
Naomi does it without thinking, reaches out and places her hand on Emily's knee and says, "Stay."
Emily looks so taken back by her suggestion that Naomi glances away quickly, feeling awfully embarrassed for the hundredth time in one evening. She hears Emily's voice a second later, quiet and with a hint of warning. "Naomi..."
Naomi looks back at Emily then and sees the fear darkening her eyes and finds herself laughing nervously in response, wanting to dispel Emily's worries. "I didn't mean it like that Em... just stay and sleep for the sake of sleeping." She sees the hesitancy that spreads across Emily's face and adds, "Plus, we've been drinking, I can't really let you drive home, can I?"
Emily bites at her lip, obviously conflicted by the mere suggestion and the implications it might cause, shrugs her shoulders when she says, "I don't know if it's a good idea, Nae."
Naomi smiles back at her and teases, "Come on Em, I promise not to grope you in the night."
"Fine," Emily replies rolling her eyes as her lips twitch up into a smile. "But you better keep on your half of the bed, you're a right hogger."
"I am not!" Naomi gasps in offence, feeling her defence slipping when Emily pins her with a challenging stare.
Emily laughs when Naomi cracks and smiles. "See, you are too, and you know it. You always used to fall asleep on your side and then slowly shift across until you were dead in the middle, all spread out and stealing all of the covers while I clung to the tiny bit of room that I managed to save from you."
Naomi finds herself smiling softly as Emily recalls the memory and tentatively brushes her thumb across Emily's knee. "Well, I promise I won't this time, yeah? We can even make a little pillow barrier if you'd like."
She feels Emily shudder slightly at her caress and has to fight the urge to lean over and kiss her when Emily whispers, "That won't be necessary. I believe you."
They get changed in separate rooms, Emily borrowing one of Naomi's old large oversized t-shirts to sleep in and once they're both ready and back in Naomi's room, they stare at each other a little hesitantly from opposite sides of the bed.
Naomi sees the shift in Emily's body language, watches as her shoulders slowly hunch up with tension and gestures quickly at her bed before Emily can change her mind. "You okay on that side, yeah?"
Emily swallows audibly and nods her head just the once, her voice coming out quiet when she replies, "Yeah, I always sleep on this side so it's fine."
"Thought so," Naomi says with a small smile, ignoring the way that Emily's breath catches at the way Naomi's obviously remembered from all that time ago.
Naomi gets in first, pulling down the duvet and slipping into the bed with ease before tilting her head to stare at Emily who falters for a split second before crawling in next to her. The tension seeps in the moment that Naomi turns the light off, feels herself stiffening and laying motionless as Emily twists and turns next to her, obviously trying to get comfortable.
"Thanks for coming over tonight, Ems. It's been really lovely," Naomi murmurs quietly into the darkness.
She feels the mattress dip as Emily turns again and feels herself smiling when Emily gently whispers back, "Me too, Nae. Night."
Naomi turns her head to try and make Emily out but can't, lets out a content sigh instead as she turns on her side to face in Emily's direction. "Night Em, sleep well."
She wakes slowly, her eyes blinking open and adjusting to the light tentatively, and it's only when she feels a warm breath puffing out against her neck that Naomi remembers that she didn't fall asleep alone.
It takes her a moment longer to register Emily's arm draped over her stomach, their legs carelessly entwined and Naomi can't stop herself from tilting her head ever so slightly to get a better look at Emily's face.
Naomi feels her lips curling up into a small smile as she watches Emily sleep peacefully, her eyelashes fluttering softly and her lips parted ever so slightly in a way that forces Naomi's heart clench achingly in a way that makes Naomi desperate to touch.
She's careful then, as she daringly brushes her fingertips across Emily's cheek, tracing the outline of her jaw before continuing on down the curve of her neck; the skin warm and smooth beneath her touch.
Emily stirs a moment later, letting out a content purr as Naomi's fingers lightly trail along her collarbone and Naomi scolds herself when brown eyes blink open and register her and what she's doing.
Naomi stills her caress and watches as Emily's gaze falls to the arm she has draped over Naomi's waist, sees the shock that glimmers in her eyes as she realises that they're no longer safely separated by space but instead cuddled comfortably together; their bodies connected in nearly every place possible.
Emily's eyes find her again and Naomi feels her stiffen as she goes to pull her arm back, clearly horrified that her control and guard has slipped while she's been asleep. Naomi knows it's daring, probably a little bit foolish, but she can't help but want to stay in the moment for as long as possible, and so moves her hand to cover Emily's arm and keeps her in place.
"Don't," Naomi whispers, holding Emily's eyes and silently pleading with her. "It's okay... stay, just for a few minutes more."
Emily closes her eyes and lets out a shuddering breath in response and when Naomi feels Emily relax against her again and reopen her eyes, she runs her hand along Emily's arm, wrapping it around her and pulls her in just a little bit closer, feeling content when Emily sighs against her and squeezes at her hip.
It's almost 10.a.m. by the time they finally and a little reluctantly break apart and head downstairs in search of some food- Naomi's stomach rumbling loudly and making them both giggle as it alerts them of its need for breakfast.
Effy, JJ and Bricker are already seated around the table and eating toast when they get to the kitchen and Naomi's silently thankful when the surprised look on Effy's face disappears just as quickly as it emerged.
"Morning guys," Effy says casually, offering them both a smile as she reaches over and squeezes JJ's hand, obviously distracting him and cutting him off from whatever shocked ramble he was clearly about to go off on.
"Morning." Naomi moves further into the kitchen and avoids meeting JJ's eye as she settles down at the table and pulls a stupid face at Bricker.
It's only when Bricker doesn't respond to her greeting, that she follows his gaze and turns back to the doorway to see Emily lingering awkwardly, her brow furrowed as she bites at her bottom lip. Naomi feels her stomach flop at the sight of Emily so nervous and conflicted around the people they've known for longer than she can remember and extends her hand out in Emily's direction with an encouraging smile.
Emily looks back and forth between Naomi and Effy and JJ and eventually takes the few short steps between her and everybody and squeezes Naomi's hand before settling into the seat next to her.
"You two look rather well rested," JJ says, pouring them both cups of coffee. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah... really well, thanks," Emily murmurs back, flashing Naomi a soft smile before taking the coffee JJ passes and sipping at it.
It seems natural then, how quickly the air of awkwardness evaporates around them as they all settle into easy conversation, and as Naomi watches Emily laugh with Effy, while Bricker tugs at JJ's sleeve and passes him a car, Naomi can't help but think this is exactly how her family should look.
Katie calls her unexpectedly sometime during the start of November.
"How's things muffmuncher?"
Naomi rolls her eyes and laughs because even if Katie's grown up a part of her will always be Katie 'I've never not had a boyfriend' Fitch and it's that part that used to infuriate Naomi so much that now makes her smile in amusement the most.
"Katiekins, what a lovely surprise," Naomi drawls in that slow way she knows grates on Katie's nerves, and pulls a cigarette from her packet, resting it between her lips before adding. "I'm doing pretty well thanks. Now, what'd you want because you're clearly not ringing me for a chit-chat."
She hears Katie gasp in mock defence and mutter, "Bitch." which only serves to make Naomi laugh again before she clicks her lighter and takes a puff of her cigarette. "I don't know why I bother with you, you massive cunt." Katie adds playfully. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm coming up to see Ems this weekend and I'm, like, going to suggest that we all get together for a drink or something. Surprise her with our new BFF bond, yeah?"
"Does she know that you came and met me that day in Bristol?" Naomi asks growing serious.
"Nah, I didn't want to get her any more wound up than she already was, and well, I'm not sure she would have believed me if I'd said I'd been nice to you."
"So, what, she just thinks I buggered off back to London on my own?"
Katie chuckles wickedly. "Babes, she doesn't think you're that bloody clever." Naomi scoffs. "I told her I'd sent you back on your merry way when you came to my house that time, all right?"
"Yeah, fine. Well, I suppose none of that matters now anyway. Things have been going good for us, so..."
"Ems said when she rang me," Katie replies pleasantly. "Look, I've got to go, but we'll catch up properly when we go out, yeah?"
"Yeah, sure. See you soon, Katiekins."
It's only when Naomi hangs up the phone that she realises for the first time ever in her life, she's actually looking forward to seeing Katie Fitch in person.
Emily looks completely baffled the moment Naomi meets them at the restaurant and greets both her and Katie with a brief hug, and she has to bite hard at her lip to keep from laughing when she sees Katie smirk in a mixture of amusement and smugness.
The look of utter confusion cover Emily's face only intensifies throughout the meal when she and Katie pass friendly and ridiculously playful banter back and forth between them instead of their usual disgusted and loathing bouts of mutual hatred.
"Okay, that's it," Emily says as they exit the restaurant, cutting through whatever it that Naomi and Katie are laughing about. "When the hell did this happen?"
They both stare back at her trying very hard not to smile. "When did what happen Em?" Naomi asks, chancing a quick glance at Katie who immediately joins in with her own, "Yeah, Ems, what the fuck are you talking about?"
Their answers only act to fuel Emily further and she gestures wildly at them, her eyes wide and disbelieving. "This." She mutters exasperatedly. "This odd little nicety thing that you two have going on."
Katie smirks and cocks an eyebrow as she links her arm through Naomi's. "Fuck's sake, Ems. All those years you kept banging on about us being chums and now that we're playing nicely you get your pants all in a twist. Make your bloody mind up."
Naomi watches Emily's mouth drop open a little and can't contain her laugher any longer. "Sorry Em," she says when she sees Emil glaring at them. "Katiekins and I made nice in Bristol after you'd told me to bugger off."
"Yeah," Katie adds with a smile. "And now we're like, totally best buds aren't we babes?" Naomi laughs again and nods her head.
Emily rolls her eyes and smiles back at them. "You're both complete cunts. I was worried you were doing that fake, overly civilised thing that you used to do when Naomi had to come for dinner at ours with mum and dad."
"Nope. It's all real this time," Naomi says smiling happily. "We're far too wise and mature to be that dickish anytime soon."
Katie huffs out a chuckle. "Whatever babes, you're still pretty dickish."
"Yeah, well, you're still a bitch so we're even." Naomi retorts with a smirk.
"Right, that's it," Emily cuts in as Katie opens her mouth again. "This night has been surprisingly nice and I don't need you two spoiling it now with one of your insult wars."
"Fine," Katie mutters in a playfully dejected tone before turning her attention towards Naomi. "It's been a pleasure as always."
"Yeah, it's been swell, Katiekins," Naomi replies, letting Katie pull her into a quick hug and laughing when Katie mutters, 'cow' into her ear before letting her go.
Emily looks over at her a little awkwardly then and says, "Right, well, thanks for a good night. I guess I'll see you Monday morning."
"Yeah," Naomi replies tensely. "Monday."
Emily doesn't make an attempt to move, just stares at her for a few long seconds before closing the gap between them and pressing a kiss to Naomi's cheek. Naomi smiles shyly when Emily pulls back and tries not to mumble something idiotic when she sees the cute, embarrassed blush that quickly appears on Emily's cheeks.
They don't say anything, just stare at each other until they both break out into happy grins and Naomi waves goofily as Emily heads over to Katie and links their arms together as they start to walk away.
As Naomi watches them disappear into the distance, she can't quite believe just how much easier things were with the three of them getting along, knows it's already going to make a difference in the long run and goes home with a happy smile plastered across her face.
December comes in the blink of an eye.
And Naomi feels almost stupidly upset when Emily tells her that she's going back to Bristol for a few days to spend Christmas with her parents and Katie and ends up holding her in a hug for far longer than she should when Emily comes over to the house to say goodbye, pressing a lingering kiss to Naomi's cheek before turning around and leaving without looking back.
Naomi only sees the wet splodge on her shirt when Effy points it out as she joins her back in the kitchen to bake cakes with her and Bricker, and feels herself grinning like an idiot when she realises she's not the only one already missing someone and wishing they could spend Christmas together.
As it turns out, Effy's mum surprises them with an invite home to Bristol for Christmas, and when she tells Effy that Tony will be home and that she's always welcome to bring JJ, and her (non-gay lover) Naomi too, Effy practically lights up with joy and begs Naomi to come until she agrees.
They invite her mum and Kieran too, and Naomi almost feels tense and irritated just by the mere thought of being trapped in a room with everyone and being made to be jolly and cheerful when all she wants to do is mope about how she already, pathetically misses Emily. But then Bricker bounces onto her lap during the train journey home and excitedly points out a guy dressed as Santa, dispelling all of her dread in an instant; knows that Christmas day is always worth it as long as she gets to see his little face light up in shock and amazement.
Christmas day isn't half as bad as she expected it to be.
Anthea's matured surprisingly during the short time that she's managed to stay sober, and nothing makes Naomi smile more than seeing Effy so utterly happy with her family.
Her mum and Kieran are easily pleased and she feels instantly grateful to Tony who manages to keep everyone entertained with his natural charm and ease without bringing alcohol into the mix.
And then there's JJ, who turns up just after lunch after having spent the morning with his mum, and surprises Bricker with a Scaletrix set and Effy with a beautiful necklace and Naomi can't help but think that it's all rather lovely, even when Kieran manages to accidentally spill coffee all over the floor.
They might be a slightly dysfunctional lot, but they're hers and Naomi finds herself rolling her eyes and joining in with them all just because she can.
It only occurs to her mid-afternoon that Emily's house is only a fifteen minute walk from Effy's and if she wanted to, she could easily sneak away for a couple of hours to see her.
She sends Emily a quick text and tries not to get her hopes up, knows there's a chance that Emily will be stuck in some kind of festive Fitch scenario and may not be able to make a getaway, but within seconds Emily texts her back and Naomi's unable to contain her smile as she snatches up her coat and slips out of the house unnoticed.
Emily meets her at the end of the road from her house on the corner just like she used to when Naomi would manage to coax her to sneak out from under her parents' watchful eyes for a quick and sneaky make-out session. And Naomi can tell just by the way Emily smiles cheeky and rolls her eyes that she's remembering something along the same lines as she is.
"Hey," Naomi says when she gets closer, ignoring the cold wind and slight snowfall. "Merry Christmas."
Emily smiles back at her and pulls her into a hug, says, "Merry Christmas, Nae."
Naomi glances past Emily's shoulder in the direction of the Fitch house and asks, "How are you? The Fitch clan driving you insane yet?"
Emily chuckles and tugs at Naomi's arm getting her to start walking along beside her. "Just a little. Luckily we've all gotten too old for the games now and mum and dad back off when we tell then we've out grown playing 'pin the tail in the reindeer'. What about your mum and Kieran, driving you up the wall?"
Naomi scoffs and follows it up with a smirk. "Not only have I got mum and Kieran to deal with, I now have my adored extended family of Effy and her mad bunch. Oh, and Jay, but he looks a little overwhelmed by it all, has stayed pretty quiet so far."
Emily smiles softly. "Him and Effy worked out surprisingly well, huh?"
"Yeah," Naomi nods. "I never would have pictured them together when we were at college but now they just--"
"Work?" Emily cuts in, glancing sideways at Naomi.
Naomi lets out an amused sigh and smiles. "Who would have thought that a few years and a bit of growing up would have had such an effect on two people?"
"I don't know," Emily says, smiling softly over at Naomi as she slides their hands together and entwines their fingers. "Seems like that's an occurring theme around here, right?"
Naomi glances down at their hands and finds that she has to swallow hard against the emotional lump in her throat before she can look back at Emily and happily murmur, "Yeah, it does."
Emily doesn't say anything else, just squeezes Naomi's hand a little tighter and lets them enjoy the moment of just walking silently together.
The first thing Naomi notices when they stop to look out over Bristol harbour, is how red Emily's cute little button nose has gotten in the cold.
It makes her giggle and smile uncontrollably when Emily sniffs for, like, the twentieth time in five minutes and she turns to Naomi with a bemused smile and wide eyes. "What?" Naomi shakes her head and bites at her bottom lip until Emily prods at her and repeats herself.
She unties her scarf then, instead of replying and carefully loops it around Emily's neck, tying it perfectly and tucking the ends into Emily's coat before grinning back at her and tapping Emily's nose with her index finger. "You looked a little cold, Rudolph."
Emily scoffs at Naomi's teasing and swats at Naomi's hand which only makes Naomi break out into a laugh. It doesn't last long because within seconds Emily's grabbed her by the collar of her coat and is tugging her forward and into a kiss.
It's tentative and slow and delicate and just enough to make Naomi feel like she's melting into her as they pull apart reluctantly.
Naomi releases a shaky breath against Emily's lips and finds herself at a loss for words, doesn't know what to say when kissing Emily like that has been all that Naomi's wanted since the moment their lives collided again.
She smiles shyly instead and watches as Emily smiles tenderly back at her, and decides that she doesn't need to say anything at all, Emily already knows, she feels it too.
They kiss once more when they get back to the Fitch house and Naomi has to stop herself from rolling her eyes and laughing when she hears an, "Emily, is that you darling? We've all been waiting for you before we--"
And it wouldn't quite be the perfect moment without Jenna Fitch intruding, staring over at them- at Naomi with a look of shock and general confusion.
Emily runs her hand down Naomi's arm and links their hands together while simultaneously turning towards her mum and saying, "Sorry mum, Naomi and I went for a walk and lost track of time."
Naomi waits then, as Jenna's gaze falls down to their entwined hands, for the burst of disgust and rage that normally spews out of her mouth whenever she catches sight of Naomi with her daughter or just Naomi anywhere, but it doesn't come.
Instead, Jenna smiles politely, albeit a little awkwardly and beckons them over. "Why don't you invite Naomi in for a drink, Emily? It's rude to leave your guests standing out in the cold."
"Sure mum, that'll be nice, thanks," Emily replies with a smile before turning back to Naomi with amusement clouding her eyes when she sees the shock evident on Naomi's face.
"What the hell happened to your mum?" Naomi whispers as Emily tugs her towards the house. "She's almost, like, human now or something. It's weird."
Emily just shakes her head and laughs as she pulls her inside. "Shut up, Naomi."
It feels a little bit like she's suffering an outer-body experience.
Naomi doesn't quite know what to make of it all as Jenna makes polite conversation with her and Emily while Rob clumsily shoves a can of larger into her hand and pats her roughly on the back even as James and Katie continue to pull amused faces at her from the couch.
It still feels a little bit weird, takes until Emily sits down next to her and places her hand comfortingly on her knee for Naomi to relax and actually start to enjoy herself.
It's nice, but it's a weird nice that Naomi isn't quite sure what to do with yet, even when Emily laughs at her again for what feels like the tenth time and kisses her goodbye at the door two hours later with a "welcome to the family" that has Naomi smiling all the way back to Effy's.
They're all back in London for New Year's and when Effy manages to convince Tony to come back to London with them and babysit Bricker on New Year's eve, she organises a little get-together for the four of them - her, JJ, Naomi and Emily - and somehow convinces them all to spend a night out on the town, drinking and celebrating as the old year passes and the new one arrives.
Effy gets annoyed with how reluctant they all seem to begin with and with a few well placed drink orders and some dancing, they've all loosened up by the time midnight starts to come around.
Naomi comes back in from having a smoke just in time to catch sight of Effy and JJ dancing together slowly in the middle of a crowd, all smiles and kisses, and manages to find Emily again a couple of minutes before the countdown starts.
Emily pulls her in close, looping her arms behind Naomi's neck and smiles at her brightly as Naomi wraps her arms around her and lets them sway to the music together. And it's only when the countdown begins and Emily tugs at the back of her neck, drawing her down for a deep, slow kiss and whispers, "To never looking back but always forwards" against her lips, that Naomi feels her heart bursting with an overwhelming sense of love and believes that this will be the year when everything in her life properly begins.
She wakes naked and twisted beneath cool sheets with a warm body pressed tightly up against her side and feels her lips quirking up into a soft smile as she trails her eyes over Emily's face and lets herself reach out and run her fingertips over the soft skin of Emily's arm and shoulder.
Emily stirs beneath her touch and blinks her eyes open with a sleepy smile, letting out a content sigh as Naomi traces her fingers down Emily's bare back where the sheet has slipped away and left her exposed to Naomi's gaze and touch.
Naomi's aware of Emily watching her, can feel her looking, as she keeps her own eyes glued intently to the way that Emily's skin seems to melt and mould around her fingertips with each passing stroke that she makes.
And it's only because it all seems too much, too unreal that Emily's still there with her and letting her touch without moving away, without flinching, that Naomi finds herself saying it just because she can.
Breathes it out honest and true, "I love you..."
Emily closes her eyes at the words, at finally hearing it at a time when she can, when it isn't wrong for either of them, and Naomi uses the opportunity to trail her hand up to Emily's face and cup her cheek, brushing the pad of her thumb gently across Emily's skin.
Naomi watches as Emily's eyes re-open, nuzzling her face into Naomi's hand and looks back at Naomi lovingly, her emotions raw and open and there for Naomi to see in her eyes when she murmurs back, "I love you too."
"I know," Naomi says, smiling when Emily turns her head and kisses her palm. "I've always known."
Emily smiles back at her beautifully and shifts enough to close the tiny bit of distance still left between them as she pulls their hands away from her face to rest nestled between their hearts and takes her time to kiss Naomi languidly, tenderly- enough to leave them both trembling and breathless.
Naomi knows that neither of them are faultless and that what they have may not be the perfect fairytale version of love that Emily had hoped for, but it's theirs, and when Emily breaks away to look at her, to really look at her openly and adoringly, Naomi knows she'll spend the rest of her life holding onto it.