She sees them sometimes, through the haze of cigarette smoke: ghosts; memories that dance around her room like shadows, their presence feeling like fingertips ghosting over her skin – never quite there but constant.
Vaguely she thinks to herself that she ought to be more scared, like she was the first time they appeared. But, then she sees a crooked grin and deep brown eyes, and instead she utters,
In the end, she's always right. After years of telling everyone that they would leave her, they do. Panda and Thomas go to Harvard, Cook to jail, Naomi and Emily to Goa, and Katie and JJ to universities far away, only leaving empty houses and dust behind. But Effy stays. Even after decades of running away, she stays and waits for everyone to come back.
Anthea sighs, pushing university pamphlets and letters under her door. Jim comes back and ends up yelling until the walls shake, still shuddering an hour after the final slam of the door. Even Tony comes back and grins, saying: "Don't you want to come with me? Come to Cardiff, we can be the Stonem siblings. Completely mindfuck everyone within a thirty mile radius."
But she shakes her head, blowing on her purple painted nails, and Tony just rolls his eyes.
"Jesus, you're not starting on that silent shit again, are you?"
She draws maps on her sheets, traces forgotten roads in black ink and tries to follow the right creases that will lead her to her destination, whatever that may be.
Of course, it all rubs off when her mother washes the sheets. The black ink for roads, the blue chalk for water, the red pen for city names, it all blends and stains the fabric, making it look bruised and broken and something else she can't quite remember.
Afterwards, when they're blowing in the breeze, sunlight coming through the threads and making it glow, she says,
"Awesome, mum, I always wanted tie-dyed sheets," even though it looks nothing like that at all.
"He's not coming back, you know," Anthea says one day. Effy doesn't look up, just stares at the faint imprints the bed sheets made on her skin, trailing her finger along where they criss-cross jaggedly.
"Who, Tony?" she asks.
"No, sweetie." She tastes vodka in her cereal and she thinks she has a hangover. "You know…it's just, if you're staying because you think he's coming back, he's not. Ok?" Somewhere, she does, deep in the clutter of her mind.
"Yeah, of course he's not coming back," she says. "I know."
She thinks she's stuck in time somewhere, where she knows almost nobody and doesn't even care. People in the street start to seem blurred, up to the point where she becomes desensitized to them. Instead, they become toys to play with, fuck, manipulate, break and throw away.
"Effy, your heart's gone all rusty," a voice, too similar to Pandora's, says in her head. And then, for the first time in a long while, she laughs. Throws her head to the sky and lets the sound escape from her throat, feeling unhinged.
"It feels so good," she says, to no one except the cloudless sky. "To feel nothing at all."
She dreams a lot. Almost every night, in fact, and it feels wrong. She sees smiles and blue eyes and brown eyes and lipstick and lace and old denim jeans and fishnets and mascara, all swimming throughout light and dark.
Most of all, she dreams about the boy in blood with a crooked smile. Trickles of blood run down his arms, pooling in his fingertips when they dry, but even so she's not scared. Sometimes, they're in a park, or on the river together. Others, she sees him with another woman who has the exact same smile as him and cuts on her arms. They rip pages out of books and fold them into swans, building their own library out of paper birds.
She always feels better when she watches them – lighter, almost. She sits across from them, watching their careful fingers, before finally, the boy leans forward and places a swan in her hand. Then, in a voice that isn't quite his own, he says,
"These are your bad memories. Keep them folded." Her hand trembles suddenly as his smile transforms, twisting and morphing, and his eyes flash blue instead of brown. And then, just as quickly as it came, it goes, and she smiles again as he kisses her forehead.
(love you forever)
She asks her mother once, "Why am I me?"
"You were your own person from the moment you were born," her mother answers, a smile on her face. "Practically named and raised yourself."
But she thinks it's more than that, that there has to be a deeper reason to why she hates buses and baseball more than anything else and she has to remember that Panda wasn't always there. But her mother blanches when she says this, and for once she doesn't want to cause trouble.
She finds giraffes and pill bottles and creased paper and suddenly she can taste vomit and alcohol and smoke and maybe even blood in the back of her throat. At first she thinks that maybe it's some shit like cancer and she's about to die because suddenly she can smell petrol in the room and maybe everything is about to blow up because her mother always said that she was like fire – and her hand's slipping on the doorway but she needs to go out. Away.
"Look both ways before you cross the road," her mother says and then she's gone; runs back upstairs and locks herself in her room and takes the last of Tony's pills that she's not even supposed to have but oh god she does and her wrist is shaking and all she wants to do is forget.
She closes her eyes and has no idea whether she's asleep or not. But she's going backwards, back further and further until everybody's still with her and Freddie's alive and there's no John Foster and Jim still lives with them and even Tony's there and Sid loves Cassie and she doesn't talk but she's happy, she's got her giraffe and Tony picks her up from school and she's different, better and then she's Elizabeth and nothing really matters anymore.
Second attempted suicide and counting leads her back to the hospital, adding to her medical record and amount of scars. She does it to remember, to see her blood and know that it pumped through her heart, fingertips; touched and kissed Freddie and knew their history together.
And when she looks at the bandages she cries, glitter mixing with salt and she feels herself corroding, turning rusty and she whispers to Anthea, "You weren't supposed to save me. He was." Later, she hears her yelling at doctors and nurses that she will kill someone if they give her another John Foster, and all she can do is laugh bitterly, because there's no one else left to kill.
She's always right.
They all come back, even if it is just temporary. Pandora comes back with Thomas, hand in hand, and telling her stories and bringing her back photos and chocolate. Emily and Naomi come back with matching tattoos and Naomi sneaks her spliff and pills through the window. JJ gives her books and puzzles to solve and she beats him at his own card trick. Katie comes and organises everything and tries to make her fashionable when she's wearing a hospital gown.
Even Karen comes back and, silently, they make paper swans together out of postcards and doctor's note and prescriptions. By the end, her whole table is filled with birds, but she can't open them, can't go back to being locked in time.
Finally, Cook gets one day to see her and as soon as she asks why they let him out they answer in unison, We're All Mad Here. It rains like it always does and they watch it together, piles of ash forming at their feet.
"What do you remember?"
(I got fucked up. It always feels as if there's blood in my mouth and I can't get it out. My brother got hit by a bus. That happened. I know that happened. My boyfriend got bashed to death by a baseball bat. I think. I wasn't there. But Cook caught Foster and the police said they found the body.
All I know is that Freddie went away. I hate him. I hate hate hate him. He left me.)
She runs away, just to feel better, just so that no one can leave her again. All she takes is a credit card and a box of cigarettes and her medication, along with her prescriptions, and an old writing booklet she got a long time ago.
She meets a boy with deep brown eyes and a floppy hair and small smile and an American accent who says his name is Adam. They travel at night, high heels and cigarette and pollution and smoke mixing, making the tops of the skyscrapers disappear. She fucks and drinks during the day, moving through a haze and wondering if she's turned into a ghost, crossed over onto the other side.
"You remind me of a girl I used to know," Adam says one day. She smiles, blowing smoke rings out to the harbour and watching them disappear as a boat rocks up against the dock.
"Yeah," she says. "Me too."
Three bottles of her medication leave her feeling completely empty. The voices are gone, the ghosts seem to dissolve into thin air, and her dreams just stop. And suddenly, she's completely alone, more along than ever before, and she's clutching for the invisible touch of fingertips and lips and nails, desperately trying to feel them once again.
But they're gone. And all she's left with is the outline of her hand blocking out the glow from the stars stuck on the ceiling in a house that isn't hers, that doesn't even exist outside her closed eyes.
She still hears his voice sometimes, echoing in her head.
("It's one of those things," he says as he twirls her hair around his finger, his eyes wandering over her face, eyes, body, all of her, as if he doesn't have enough time to learn it off by heart. "It's one of those things where I love you so hard I can't breathe," he says finally.
Her hand finds his under the sheets and she thinks that she could never be this happy again.)
The days have become hazy, merging into one another until she can't tell if it's night or day or a weekday or a weekend or if it's summer or winter or autumn or spring or if it's her birthday or panda's or anthea's or tony's or freddie's and after a while they all just become numbers on a calendar and names tattooed on her wrists. It's one of those days when she hears her phone ring for the first time in...well, ages, really. Or maybe not.
"Effy fucking Stonem, what the fuck are you doing?" Tony says to her. She laughs, disco balls spinning and light reflecting in her eyes.
"Living the good life, driving on the high road at five hundred miles per hour, fucking up. Whatever you want to call it, really," she says.
"Jesus christ, Effy, just come home. We're all worried sick," he says, and she can imagine him, running a hand through his hair and smoking a cigarette (she remembers them as kids, blowing into the winter air to see their breath condense, putting imaginary cigarettes to their lips - she wonders why she ever grew up in the first place).
"After you're finished with your exams and fucking Michelle and everything that moves, of course," she says, glaring at the wall in front of her.
"What? No! Just, shit, just come home, ok?" She says nothing, running her finger over the rips in her tights and staring at the pinpricks and the scars and the ash on her arm, imagining a finger connect her freckles until they make a lopsided star. All she can hear is static and heavy breathing on the other hand, and all she wishes is that Adam would come back so that she'd have something other than telegraphs and space stations for company.
"Take your time, Eff. We just need you back; mum and dad have flipped their shit and it's weird not having my annoying little sis around, you know?" he says finally.
"I don't care," she says. He laughs, a scoffing sort of sound that makes her smile.
"I know," he says.
Sometimes, she wants to scream until her voice is hoarse and the whole world is shaking with echoes, eardrums have burst and walls have crumbled. It all gets so confusing, with her memories and her fantasies and the voices in her head until she ends up punching a wall, her knuckles bleeding and Adam trying to calm her down and stop her tears and she can't feel anything.
It always ends up the same way: her staring up at the ceiling and counting cracks, waiting for the moon to disappear and the sun to come back and make everything golden, even just for a moment.
Eventually, when she hasn't slept for five days straight and there are no more pills, she takes a permanent marker to a bare wall and writes the same three words over and over again, and then it's the same with every other bare wall, except with a different phrase until the whole apartment is just a mess of black and white and i love you's and come back's.
Adam comes back from shopping or Manhattan or New York or wherever the fuck he was and takes her hand, and together they burn black and white photographs and drop the ash and glowing embers out the window, watching it float down to the street.
Freddie's still seventeen and she doesn't think that it's fair that he will always be young and perfectly preserved while her lungs already have holes in them and her fingers are yellow and scars litter her arms.
(But she still wishes him happy birthday and tries to make swans but all she ends up with are paper cuts and confetti.)
(She tries and she thinks that's the point.)
When she does go back, Bristol smells the same as always and the owners at the convenience store still give her free packs of cigarettes even though it's been more than two months since she saw them. Her mother's hugs and cries are the same, as are her father's yells and Tony's smirk.
Pandora comes back just to see her, and they end up sitting on her bed, holding hands while they look out the window as it rains. They smoke and watch as the windows fog up, laughing and reading poems and writing quotes and maps and names on each other's arms and while she doesn't forget, for the first time she feels happy, even without Freddie. And even when she sees us on the window (and it makes her fingertips tingle even though she can barely see it), all she can do is tilt her head and smile, the smoke curling into a similar shape.
Nothing's changed, but she thinks maybe that's best.
Disclaimer: I do not own Skins.
A/N: I haven't written in more than two months so, unsurprisingly, this is crap and I feel so ashamed that I haven't done Effy justice. But, I'm posting this anyway because I just need to and I also need critique. Anyway, the basic idea is that Effy would still be having side effects from the treatment John Foster gave her (seeing as he basically brainwashed her and that isn't easy to recover from), which is why in parts she's confused and disoriented and unsure about everything. She also doesn't completely remember everything, mainly the "bad things", such as Freddie's death. If you have any questions, either review or PM and I will try and explain.