These are short stories where two people find, rediscover or be with each other. It could happen anytime, anywhere, in any situation. Perhaps, it could even happen to you and me.
Disclaimer: This is completely unrelated to the actual Skins. Places stated are written as closely accurate as possible but possibly with a huge margin of error. The blanket of fiction covers all inaccuracies of any kind or form. Any semblances to people and real life events are purely coincidental or exaggerated. The use of imagination is much appreciated.
A Staring Elf
"Hurry up you twat," Naomi called over her shoulder.
She climbed the remaining steps of that flight and stood on the top step. Her lips were slightly parted and her chest heaved a slow rhythm as she panted out the exertion. Her brow was dotted with beads of perspiration; the back of her grey t-shirt was soaked through and clung tightly onto her skin, making her feel very uncomfortable. The worse thing was that she was wearing a tight pair of jeans. She shook her head a little and twisted the corner of her mouth in annoyance at the slow lumbering figure still clamouring up the steps.
She really disliked the climate; it was hot, humid and stuffy. Plus it had just rained two hours ago so the humidity level was high. Every time when she was out of the air-conditioned places, she perspired ridiculous amounts. She figured out that her body probably just wasn't made for tropical climate countries. That was unfortunate because she absolutely loved the culture and the food the South East Asian countries had. And that was why she agreed to go on two month long trip covering Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. She was now in Singapore, the last stop of her travels.
She thought her body would have gotten used to the climate by now but apparently she had never imagined that this was the ultimate endurance test. At least in Chiang Mai, the nights were cool; or when she was in Cameron Highlands, she had to put on a thin sweater at night to keep her warm. As for Singapore, right now, at six o'clock in the evening, she just wanted to return back to their hostel, remove all her clothes and hop straight into a long cold shower.
Naomi sighed as she kind of regretted agreeing to attend this concert with Freddie on the spur of the moment. Somehow he found out that one of his favourite bands was holding a concert at Fort Canning Park in Singapore for the first time so he suggested they get tickets. It was also his idea that it would be fun experiencing a concert with the local people. Usually she was fond of spontaneity but this was one of the times she regretted letting him decide. It has to be the climate's fault. It would be so much better if the temperature could just turn down ten degrees. That would make her feel loads better and less grouchy.
Freddie finally reached the top stair. He was panting harder than Naomi. His hair was matted with perspiration; his fringe that usually fell effortlessly and fashionably over his forehead was plastered appallingly instead, in an unsightly way with drops of perspiration oozing out from its tips. His t-shirt was also drenched with sweat; he looked a mess and Naomi thought she must have looked just as bad too but she really couldn't care, not in this heat.
"Can you walk faster? The good spots are going to be all taken up," Naomi grumbled. It was as though she was the one excited about the concert. Although she had no idea how good or fantastic the band was, she still wanted a decent spot to view them from. She would hate getting a spot way behind or get her view blocked by someone tall.
"Aww babe, I'm carrying a bag." Freddie flashed his puppy dog eyes and attempted to swipe his fringe out of his eyes, making himself look even worse.
"There's almost nothing in the bag," Naomi snapped back. "You smoke far too fucking much."
Freddie chuckled, "Alright, alright." He laced his hand through hers and gave a little squeeze. Naomi almost wanted to pull away because his hand was slimy and clammy with his perspiration, and so was hers too. It was disgusting, mixing perspiration together. But his squeeze was affectionate and he bent down and kissed her cheek, so Naomi didn't have the heart to pull away.
She huffed a little and tugged at his hand, "Come on slow poke, I want to get a good spot."
They made their way, hand in hand, up another flight of brick stairs and followed a small crowd of locals along a winding road pavement finally reaching a queue. After waiting in line for fifteen minutes, they flashed their tickets, got their hands stamped and followed the people in front of them through another path. They hadn't reached the main concert area yet it seemed like they've walked for ages. It was already almost dark and a few lamps lighted the path.
Finally, they entered a fenced compound through the side entrance. A tall stage was right in front of a large span of grass that was gently sloping upwards. There were no proper seats; everyone was sitting on mats on the grass or standing and chatting with their friends.
It was 6:40pm and they were still considered early. Although the area in front of the stage was already filled with people, there was still space of about seven metres away from the stage. It was a decent viewing spot and this would do.
"What time does it start again?" Naomi asked.
"About 8?" Freddie shrugged.
"Well thank fuck we brought a mat."
The grass was wet and slightly muddy with the earlier rain.
"What mat?" Freddie looked slightly confused, startled.
"The plastic mat I told you to bring along before we left the hostel?" Naomi frowned.
"No babe, I thought you were going to bring the mat." Freddie looked positively startled now.
"Do you see me carrying any bag now?" Naomi fumed, thinking for the second time that day what a twat Freddie was. She could not believe how stupid he was to miss that out.
"We can't stand for more than a hour! I'm not sitting on the grass! It's all muddy and gross." Naomi rambled agitatedly.
"Relax, we can walk around outside." Freddie tried to sooth his girlfriend's nerves, successfully missing her hand that he wanted to hold to calm her down.
"Don't be stupid, we'll give up such a good spot. I can't believe you forgot it, after I reminded you this morning." Naomi grumbled again.
"Excuse me, miss. Excuse me."
"What?" Naomi said with more irritation in her voice than required as she turned her head to the direction of the voice.
A startled looking boy with slightly curly messy brown hair was seated on a plastic sheet two metres away from where Naomi and Freddie were standing. To his left was a girl with long hair of the brightest, most vibrantly deep shade of red Naomi had ever seen. The girl was looking, no, staring right at her with a curious look on her face. Naomi's mouth suddenly ran dry as she held that stare for a few seconds, feeling her heart beat suddenly pick up it's thumping pace.
"Yes, can I help you with something?" She recovered from the little staring competition and looked back at the boy, managing to find her tongue.
This was the first time Naomi noticed that they were not the only two Caucasians here. There were a few scattered about the place, sitting in the midst of the locals. She hadn't realised another two of them were just metres from them, listening to Freddie and herself argue.
"Well, technically not." The brown haired boy started to speak again. He sounded a little chirpy; his words having a little staccato in them; he sounded like he was English too. "I'm not helping you with anything, it's more of us helping you actually – but I was wondering, well, no, Emily and I were wondering whether you would like to share the mat, the one we are sitting on right now. It is just a suggestion of course, because we overhead, not that we were eavesdropping but you were speaking too loudly, that you've forgotten to bring a mat so we thought you probably could share it with us."
Naomi stared at the boy, bewildered by the amount of words that just rushed out of his mouth in seconds. The girl beside him was rubbing her hand slowly on his back as though she was comforting him.
"Cheers mate, that will be great!" Freddie broke the small pause with a chuckle. "Babe you alright with this?"
Naomi's attention had drifted again to the redhead, Emily – if she didn't get that wrong, who was staring at her again with an expression a little daring, a little challenging, a little questioning, like she was waiting for Naomi's answer. It was something about her big eyes or that cute button nose or that long red hair that even shone in the dark under the dim lights that drew her. Truthfully, Naomi thought that girl looked rather beautiful.
"Awesome," Naomi replied after a heartbeat, a small shy grin emerging from her lips. "You sure there's enough space?" She directed her question to the boy again as the redhead hadn't said a word.
"Not a problem," the redhead finally spoke, her lips breaking into a dazzling smile.
Naomi's eyes widened in a faint surprise; she totally did not expect such a low husky voice to come from her. It was the sexiest female voice she ever heard, ever. Naomi wanted to hear her speak again. She didn't know whether it was the redhead's voice, her smile or her hair, or a combination of all that made Naomi's stomach do a weird flutter and her heart an offbeat skip.
The redhead shifted herself closer to the boy, trying to make space on her left, which Naomi felt was for her. Truth be told, the plastic piece they were sitting on wasn't much of a mat. It looked suspiciously like a plastic poncho that was converted into a 'mat'. There definitely wasn't much space. They would have to sit really closely to each other. Even so, Naomi would have this anytime then sit on the muddy grass. Plus, sitting beside the redhead seemed like a fantastic idea.
Naomi plonked herself down clumsily; her arse hitting the hard ground an inch away from the redhead's arse and her right arm accidentally knocking the redhead's left arm.
"Opps, sorry." Naomi muttered, cringing at how she inappropriately bumped her sticky skin on the girl.
"It's okay." The girl replied good-naturedly with another smile on her face. She was wearing a baggy grey singlet with a picture of a brand of beer, which Naomi thought she saw it in Thailand, and a pair of jeans. It showed of the redhead's perfectly toned arms and delicate collarbone. Naomi thought she looked rather fit and pretty.
Freddie sat himself closely beside Naomi's left. She grimaced as his sweaty arm was flushed against hers.
"I'm Emily." The redhead turned her face to Naomi again and held out her hand, staring at her straight in the eye. Something about the eye contact was doing something to Naomi's stomach too.
"I know," Naomi automatically said noticing that the redhead's face lit up a little more delightedly. "I mean I heard him mention just now." She tried to recover from that, feeling that she remembered this information about her name too easily. "Naomi," she reached out and formally shook Emily's hand. Emily's hand was small and her skin was soft and smooth unlike her slightly clammy one. Naomi felt like she was disgusting with her sweaty dirty skin.
"Naomi," Emily repeated her name. The way Emily said her name, or rolled her name on her tongue with that husky tone was making Naomi's heart beat even faster. She couldn't comprehend why it was so. "Nice name," Emily added with a smile, her dark eyes were shining. It was something about Emily's eyes as she said Naomi's name that was making her hard to look away. She felt slightly conscious of her appearance and wished hard she didn't look as unsightly as she imagined. "This is JJ," she pointed at the boy next to her and he gave a little wave.
"Freddie," Freddie introduced himself.
"Are you guys from London?" Emily asked.
"Yup, you too?" Naomi said.
"We're from Bristol."
"So what brings you to Singapore?"
"We took a gap year after university," JJ explained, "to you know, see the world, travel to all the countries we've never imagined living in, stay with the local people, do volunteer work. It's an eye opener really, something we don't get if we just stayed in England and went on with our daily lives, never really seeing the world and what is out there."
"Sounds like you had a great experience," Naomi said.
"We did," Emily nodded, "we met so many nice people along the way when we got lost or couldn't read signs. We even met a very nice guy in Thailand that we had breakfast with and he drove us to our train station to save us lots of time." Emily's eyes had the faraway look as she recalled the memories they experienced. Naomi was fascinated with Emily's eyes; it had a certain spark in it.
"What about you?" JJ asked both of them.
"We've only got two months to travel," Freddie replied. "Managed to get Naoms to take two months of leave from her job."
"Oh, what do you work as?" Emily turned her attention back on Naomi, interested.
"I'm just a journalist," Naomi answered.
"Not just a journalist babe," Freddie chuckled and put his arm around her, "She's pretty fucking good at what she does." He smiled at her with pride. Naomi was flattered, really. Freddie was proud of her accomplishment in the few months she had on the job as she was promoted within just two months in. But she didn't really want his arm around her or the fact that he kept calling her 'babe' in front of Emily. It was a strange thought; Naomi tried to brush that thought away. She noticed that Emily's eyes seemed to have strayed to Freddie's arm that was around her.
"What would you wanna do when you get back?" Naomi asked Emily, drawing the topic away from her to Emily whom she was more interested in.
"Oh, um," Emily's eyes snapped up to hers a little sheepishly, "I've a degree in Psychology. I kind of want to do counselling, work with people you know. I love meeting people, I find people fascinating, the lives they went through that brought them to where they are." There it was again, that recurring shine in Emily's eyes that Naomi had come to notice. She wondered if her eyes shone like Emily's too.
A couple of people were smoking a few metres in front of where they sat and Emily wrinkled up her nose and waved the smoke away. Naomi thought that was the cutest thing she'd ever seen. Shit, did she just call Emily's nose cute?
"Fuck, I need a fag," Freddie declared and reached for his pack.
Naomi noticed a look of faint annoyance on Emily's face and she reckoned Emily probably didn't like the smoke near her too much. Emily smelled faintly of something flowery that Naomi thought was nice. She hoped she didn't stink of perspiration.
"Could you smoke outside Freds?" Naomi asked.
"Okay, you coming babe?"
"Nah I'm good." She watched him as he stood up and sauntered out.
"You smoke too?" Emily's voice brought her back.
"Just an occasional one or two," Naomi lied a little. It was true, she was trying to cut down and eventually quit but it was hard since her boyfriend smoked quite a bit.
Emily nodded. She looked as though she wanted to say something but she didn't.
"Oh my look at the time, it's only 7pm." JJ glanced at his watch. "One more hour to go."
Emily unzipped her bag and took out two brown packets, each were tied shut with a rubber band. She handed one to JJ and removed the rubber band from her packet. Naomi was extremely curious as to what was inside it.
"Don't mind us, we just arrived and hadn't had our dinner." Emily opened her packet and the most amazing smell wafted out from the packet.
"Chicken rice." Naomi's mouth watered as she remembered the familiar scent. She had that yesterday and she could clearly remember how her first taste of it was like. The chicken she ate was juicy and tender, and the rice was hot and delicious.
"Yummy!" Emily had her mouth full of rice and chicken. A grain of rice clung unaware at the side of her mouth and Naomi instantly reached out her hand and brushed it away. The barest of touches startled her as her fingers made contact with Emily's soft skin and sent her heart racing again. She thought she saw a startled look on Emily's eyes but it was gone in a flash as soon as it appeared. "You want some?" Emily asked, after hurriedly swallowing her mouthful.
"No it's okay, it's your dinner." Naomi said. And right at that moment, her stomach did the loudest unprecedented rumble it ever made in her life.
Emily threw back her head and laughed, hearing Naomi's stomach growl. Naomi thought that was the nicest, most delicious laugh she had ever heard. And what a long and slender neck Emily had. She caught herself again; she couldn't understand why she was observing all of Emily's attributes.
"No way, you should have some. There's enough for two." Emily giggled and scooped up a spoonful of rice and a piece of chicken. "Here, open up."
Before Naomi had any time to refuse, Emily's spoon had materialised in front of her mouth and all she could do was obediently open her mouth and receive the food. She looked into Emily's eyes as she did that, noting that Emily's gaze never wavered from hers. She realised then that Emily's eyes were a deep chocolate brown in colour. She was captivated.
She chewed the food slowly. It wasn't hot anymore, rather tepid and almost cold in fact but the taste was still there. Another kind of heat, instead, formed on her cheeks. A total stranger just fed her, sharing saliva and all that; and the thing was, she liked it.
"Have some more!" Emily cheerfully said and put the packet into Naomi's hands as she dug out a bottle from her bag and unscrewed it. She took a few gulps and handed the bottle over to JJ. He drank from it and somehow ended up coughing. Emily patted and rubbed his back to sooth him. A tiny twinge of jealousy stirred up in Naomi and she pushed that ridiculous feeling away; it hadn't occurred to her that Emily and JJ were a couple too. Emily was certainly very sweet and caring to him.
Emily handed the bottle to Naomi. "I'm good, brought my own," Naomi said.
At that moment, Freddie appeared and sat down beside her, reeking of cigarette smoke. She'd never found the smell less appealing than right now. The smell completely covered Emily's sweet smelling scent that she had been delightedly and surreptitiously sniffing for the past few minutes. He pulled out a bottle from the bag and drank from it, offering to Naomi after. Naomi shook her head feeling that she didn't want to taste cigarettes right now. They passed the packet back and forth, sharing the food, in silence.
"So how long have you two been together?" She asked Emily after they finished the food; she was curious to know.
"We're not together," Emily gave a laugh, turning to JJ with a smile. "He's my best friend."
"We've known each other since high school. So after we graduated from university, we decided to travel together," JJ piped in. "It's a common misconception that when people of the opposite sex travel together, they are naturally a couple but Lara doesn't mind. Oh, Lara's my girlfriend that I met in my class in university. We've been happily together for more than a year and Emily and her get along very well together." Emily laughed at JJ's rambling again and Naomi couldn't help but feel a tiny bit of relief at what JJ just said.
"Besides," JJ added, "I am barely Emily's type." He chuckled and Emily nudged him with her elbow and threw him a look that Naomi felt like she was left out of some inside joke between them. A little part of her felt jealous again but then she reckoned it was irrational to feel this way. It wasn't her prerogative to know everything between Emily and JJ; she barely knew them.
"What about you two," Emily turned her shining eyes to Naomi with a curious look. "How long have you been together?"
There was a slight pause and a silence. Naomi's mind whirred at top speed trying to count the number of months and days. She realised she couldn't remember; it was either too long or too complicated.
"Four years in one month's time," Freddie replied cheerfully as though the silence never happened and placed a kiss on Naomi's lips. Naomi tried not to flinch away from the cigarette taste of his lips as she was feeling a truckload of guilt for not remembering how long they were together.
JJ let out a low whistle, "That's pretty long."
"Yeah," Freddie smiled, "Met this gorgeous girl with the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen on the first day in my journalism class and I told myself, 'that girl will be my girlfriend'. Plucked up courage to get her number after school, which she refused, but I didn't give up. To cut a long story short, she was my girlfriend five months later." He finished, looking a little smug but with a blissful look on his face.
Naomi smiled, she couldn't exactly remember why she gave her number to Freddie four years ago or remember why the hell she agreed to be his girlfriend. However the four years she spent with him had its fair share of trouble and happy times. She had grown accustomed to him, a connubial normalcy with him, she was used to him. They had their exciting and passionate days but as the years went on, they fell into comfortableness, like a married couple. There wasn't much of the exciting spark now but she thinks she is still happy in his company, something she had grown used to.
She felt Emily's eyes on her. True enough, they were looking at her, searchingly, curiously, but the bright spark in it had diminished. Emily looked away. That was the first time she looked away first. Naomi couldn't help but feel a little… unsettled, discombobulated, at Emily unapparent reaction.
"What about you Emily?" Freddie asked. "Any boyfriend?"
"Nope," Emily answered in a second. "Single and available," she added, grinning a little at Freddie and faced straight ahead again, not looking at Naomi.
"Gee, what a shame. I'd be glad to hook you up with some of my mates when we're back."
Emily laughed and shook her head, "Thanks but that won't be necessary."
A strange tingling gladness seeped into Naomi, it bubbled within her. An unexpected smile suddenly materialised; it was just a tiny upward twitch on one side of her mouth. Naomi stared stupidly at the profile of Emily's face, which was partially obscured by her flaming red hair. Emily inhaled and blew out all the air through her mouth, causing her fringe to fly upwards. That, Naomi thought, was the second cutest thing she saw today. As though sensing her stare, Emily turned her head towards Naomi, her brown eyes meeting her blue ones, and gave a tiny smile at her. The look on her brown eyes seemed to be conveying something Naomi couldn't quite put her finger on. Instant butterflies erupted in her stomach in a way she'd never felt before. She didn't know whether it was the way Emily looked at her, or how her tongue darted out to wet her pink lips, or whether her mind was telling her how beautiful Emily looked as the light shone on her face making it look flawless and ethereal.
Just then JJ spoke to Emily and she looked at him. The tangible connection was broken. Naomi looked down, and then at everything and anywhere except the redhead beside her. A strange thought had crept into her mind, something insane, something shocking; she immediately blocked it out, arrested it, stopped it from furthering. The single connection that remained between them was a small touch of Emily's smooth cool skin of her arm slightly resting on hers, which none of them attempted to shift away.
Naomi couldn't imagine how easy and effortless it was to talk to Emily. Naomi's usually the kind of person that rarely initiates conversation or opens up to strangers immediately but throughout the whole time, she asked many questions and said things that made Emily laugh. It was either Emily laughed easily or what she said was funny to her. She loved to hear Emily's laugh; she continued trying to make her laugh.
She was also interested in the travel stories both Emily and JJ told and their lives back in England. The more she spoke to Emily, the more she wanted to know about this girl who seemed to emit some kind of addictive happiness Naomi just couldn't get enough. There was something captivating about her personality, her air of humble confidence and dorky quirks Naomi found cute and hilarious, that she had discovered within an hour.
The lights dimmed and excited screams and shouts rang all over.
"It's starting!" Emily exclaimed excitedly.
The four of them hurriedly stood up. JJ snatched up the plastic sheet off the grass and kept it as they shuffled their way down nearer to the stage. People all around them were squeezing with each other, almost elbow to elbow. Naomi glanced behind her. The huge space that was empty earlier on was now filled with multitudes of people. She was glad of this spot they had.
They stood in a line. It was then that Naomi realised Emily's head only reached up to her eyes and that she had a slim, petit figure. Her eyes travelled lower and she noticed that Emily also had a small perky bum encased in a pair of tight jeans.
Her potential further observations were disrupted timely as the band members emerged and positioned themselves at their instruments. They had the weirdest stuff on stage; standing light bulbs, a backdrop with the projection of strange undecipherable images and a couple of instruments Naomi hadn't seen before. The coolest thing was that the front man of the band was carrying the bow of a cello on one hand and his electric guitar slung over him. Naomi's mouth fell open; that was fascinating. Her eyes automatically snapped to Emily and she saw a huge smile on the girl's face and shining eyes completely transfixed and mesmerised to what was on the stage. The best part of it was that the band hadn't even started. But Naomi already knew it was going to be one helluva gig.
Notes to the first song started, it sounded like some mysterious musical box tune that went on for a little while. Suddenly the drums thumped and the music from all instruments came together in unison, blaring out of the speakers at great force. The sound was massive, overwhelming and sonorous; despite not knowing the song, Naomi experienced a surreal euphoric rush. The front man dragged the bow on his electric guitar with force and passion; it was mind blowing. Goosebumps appeared and the tiny hairs on her arms stood in attention as she closed her eyes and tilted her head skywards, soaking herself in the music, a smile on her face. The music soared and swooped and she felt as though she was flying in the galaxies. This is amazing. She silently thanked Freddie in her mind for bringing her to this gig.
Naomi opened her eyes. There it was, Emily was looking at her again with a big grin stretched on her lips as though she knew what Naomi was personally experiencing. No words could describe but Naomi knew joy and euphoria was written clearly on her face. She glanced over at Freddie who had the same awestruck look on his face.
She was enjoying every moment of it. About six songs had passed and even losing herself in the out-of-the-world music, she found herself staring at Emily more often then she should. And the thing is, Emily was looking back at her too. They weren't full on staring but more of little frequent glances out of the corner of their eyes. They seem to catch each other's eye all the time. It made her mouth dry and her heart beat exceptionally fast but Naomi liked it; she really liked it.
There was a slight pause as the front man took off his current guitar and slung another one. This time it was a bass guitar. There were cheers again but this time, it felt like the crowd was buzzing on a different level and frequency. Even Emily seemed to be bouncing excitedly on her toes.
When the first four notes of the song were played, everyone screamed and cheered even louder than usual. This must be one of the popular songs. Emily whipped her head towards Naomi; her face was lit up and delight, joy and elation were evidently pouring out from her eyes. She looked exceptionally beautiful, carefree, glowing; her eyes were scintillant. It was overwhelming her, the music, and the look Emily was giving her. She felt more alive and filled then she had ever felt. The music was uplifting, rising up every problem if anyone had and discarding it, filling her up with a special happiness.
Naomi looked to her left and saw Freddie had his eyes shut and hands raised in the air, soaking it in. She felt a hand slip into her right, lacing though her fingers. At once she locked eyes with the culprit. Her slightly stunned ones fixated on the shining smiling eyes of the other. She couldn't look away and she couldn't pull away. A thrill like no other shot through her body like white-hot electricity when Emily squeezed her hand. Emily's hand was slightly smaller than hers, smooth and warm. It was different holding her hand as compared to Freddie's hand earlier on. She didn't want to let go of Emily's hand.
Emily opened her mouth and sang the starting words to the song, and so did the hundreds there; everyone seemed to know the words by heart even though they were of a different and rare language. Naomi couldn't hear it but she knew Emily was half shouting half singing the lyrics. Her face was beaming, bursting, blissful. Emily turned to her and sang, her unwavering eyes locked onto Naomi's.
Naomi smiled without inhibition. Her head was spinning in circles. She held on tighter to Emily's hand and the whole world felt a blur except where Emily was standing.
The music was like an orchestra, enhancing what she was experiencing. Her sensors were tingling; she could smell the scent of Emily's hair, yet she was still paying attention to the glorious music sweeping over them.
When the song ended, she loosened her hold on Emily's hand but not quite letting it go. She daren't look at Emily; she looked straight ahead at the stage, fully aware of how hard and how loud her heart was thumping in her ears and how hot her cheeks felt. Freddie wrapped a hand around her waist and pulled her towards him. Naomi dropped Emily's hand instantly with a jump. Freddie kissed her and she let him. A feeling of guilt crept into her heart. He felt so right and yet so wrong; Emily felt so wrong yet so right.
She stole a look at Emily who kept her face turned away from her, talking instead into JJ's ear. She had the sudden insane urge to kiss Emily; an urge she didn't know where it came from and why it surfaced again. All she knew was that she had never experienced that sort of connection just holding hands with someone before.
Naomi kept her distance from Emily after that. Their shoulders still brushed, furtive fleeting looks were thrown about wildly, but none of them made a move. Naomi's mind was whirring at top speed; the questions she had and the possibilities her mind was churning up were unsettling her. She wondered if Emily felt anything like what she's feeling right now, or Naomi was the only one over thinking things.
The band finished the last song and disappeared offstage though everyone knew there would be an encore. The crowd was clapping and chanting for the band to reappear and play more songs. Even Emily and JJ were joining in the chanting.
Just then, a couple drops of water landed on Naomi's nose and cheek. She looked upwards and opened her palms noting that a few other people around were doing the same thing and muttering to each other. A few more drops landed on her t-shirt. Then a few more.
"Shit it's going to rain," Naomi said to no one in particular.
In a few seconds, light rain started to descend. There was a flurry of movement where everyone was either putting on their ponchos or opening umbrellas. JJ pulled out the very same plastic sheet they sat on earlier and put it on. There were muddy stains on it but the rain would wash them all away. Emily rummaged through her bag, bringing out a small foldable umbrella and opened it.
"Want to share?" Emily asked Naomi, a little awkwardly, shyly.
Naomi nodded a little uncertainly. The umbrella could barely shelter two people; they still had to take into consideration sheltering Freddie.
"Excuse me, do you want to share with us?" A voice out of nowhere asked. Two girls with a large umbrella directed the question to Freddie.
"Well…" Freddie looked at Naomi. "Sure, if it's okay?"
Naomi nodded her head. It seemed like a good idea as Emily's umbrella was far to small to cover three of them.
"I'll hold it," Naomi offered, as she was the taller one.
She took the handle of the umbrella with her right hand. Emily shifted closer to her left, closer to Naomi, and hesitantly snaked her left hand around Naomi's waist. Naomi stiffened at the touch, her eyes widened in surprise.
"Um, we should move closer so we wouldn't get too wet," Emily said unsurely.
Her voice was just inches away from Naomi's ear and it sent unexpected shivers down her spine. Naomi was sure that that had nothing to do with the cold wind that started to blow. Her heart started pounding in her chest again and she really hoped Emily couldn't hear it.
The band finally emerged to cheers despite the pouring rain. They started to play but Naomi couldn't see the stage anymore, everyone's umbrellas blocked her view. Yet she couldn't care, not with a gorgeous redhead snuggled into her.
"Is this okay?" Emily muttered quietly over the splattering of rain on the nylon umbrella.
"Yeah," Naomi breathed out, still a little stiff from Emily's touch. It wasn't that she didn't like it; she liked it, if she dared to admit it.
Emily must have taken her response as an uncomfortable one as she slowly withdrew her hand, mumbling something less audible to Naomi.
Immediately, Naomi switched the umbrella to her left hand, her right arm going over Emily's shoulders, keeping her in place.
"No, don't move," Naomi almost commanded. Emily's face had a slightly stunned look. "We should, stay like this, for a bit, till the rain stops."
She was awarded with the brightest smile as Emily regained her hold on Naomi's waist. A secret happy smile threatened to break from Naomi's lips. Naomi could believe how well they fit together. It was strange, familiar, easy, terrifying, confusing, exciting. The scent of Emily's hair was closer now and it was making her giddy with delight.
They stayed like this for an entire song like a seasoned couple huddled together to keep away from the rain. Naomi wasn't really paying attention to the music anymore. Her body was buzzing and her eyes were secretly glancing sideways at Emily who was still closing her eyes, pretty much absorbed in the music. From where Naomi was, she could clearly see Emily's thick long lashes, delicately shaped eyebrows, pouty pink lips and flawless skin. She couldn't keep her eyes off her.
The rain didn't stop; instead it came down heavier as the band went into their second encore song. Naomi looked up to see how JJ was coping in his poncho. The white plastic was sticking to his skin and his face was wet but underneath it all, he should be dry. Naomi chuckled as she thought of something funny.
"JJ looks like a wrinkled condom," Naomi mouthed the words into Emily's ear, her lips brushing lightly on Emily's strands of hair.
Emily whipped her head around to take a look at him and gave a throaty laugh. "I think you could be right!" She continued to giggle at JJ who looked at her with a questioning look. Naomi secretly lauded herself for making Emily laugh again.
She was contented to stand there forever half embracing Emily under the umbrella in the rain. But the band finished the last song with much applause and cheers from everyone. Surprisingly the rain also stopped at the same time. It was as though the brilliance of the music caused the sky to weep and stop when it ended.
They released their hold on each other at the same time; Emily shuffled away from her. Naomi missed the feeling of the redhead's warm body heat.
"Thanks for holding the umbrella," Emily said with a small smile.
"No, thank you. If it weren't for you, I would be completely drenched," Naomi said. They locked eyes and shared a moment's smile.
There was a loud rustling sound as JJ struggled to remove his poncho and Emily immediately went over to help him.
Freddie came over, beaming happily. "That was fucking ace innit!"
Naomi could only nod in agreement for other unexplainable reasons.
Slowly, they followed the crowd and filed out of the exit. Freddie was beside Naomi the whole time excitedly talking about the gig. Naomi was listening with as much attention as she could give, her eyes subconsciously drifting to Emily and JJ walking slightly behind them. They climbed down the same steep brick steps and crossed the road, leaving Fort Canning Park and making their way to the train station.
"Where do you guys stay?" Freddie asked.
JJ replied with a place that was towards a different direction to where Freddie and her were staying.
"It was nice meeting you." Emily directed it to Naomi with a beautiful and sincere smile.
"Same." Naomi tried to return the smile but her heart dropped as she realised that she probably wouldn't see this girl anymore.
All of them exchanged their goodbyes. Naomi was trying hard not to show her disappointment. Her heart constricted with a certain kind of unexplainable pain.
"Naomi." Emily called her back at the last second as she was about to walk away with Freddie.
Emily walked right up to her and pressed a small piece of paper into her hand. Naomi looked at it. It was a crumpled receipt. On the back of it was a line of numbers scrawled in a neat handwriting. Naomi smiled as she saw Emily had wrote her name too and had dotted her "i" with a heart.
"We're going to Indonesia and the Philippines after this for two weeks before heading back to Bristol. So…" Emily paused biting her lips, her cheeks slightly red, "If you're up for it, if you want to, maybe we could meet up one day when we're all back, in London or Bristol or wherever." She rushed her words out in a hurry, clearly nervous. Naomi thought that could be the third cutest thing she had seen today. "Then again maybe not, I mean it's up to you –" Emily rambled on.
"I will." Naomi said, secretly delighted. She could seriously have this girl as a friend. Meeting Emily felt like a dim part of her life she never knew had been illuminated, like a match stuck unexpectedly in the dark, a little miracle that doesn't always happen daily. She knew they had this indubitable connection that made her want to cling tightly and shamelessly onto. When she saw the light in the smile Emily gave her, Naomi knew that she made the right choice.
"So, goodbye, for now."
"Bye." Returned Naomi, not quite wanting to go.
To her surprise, Emily lurched forward and embraced her in a tight hug. Naomi instinctively wrapped her arms around Emily's petite frame and gave a squeeze, relishing how nice Emily felt in her arms, smelling her shampoo for the last time. It all lasted for three seconds and Emily pulled away and planted a quick kiss on Naomi's cheek. It was a small peck, cursory, nothing unusual or worth reading into it, but warmth spread from where Emily's lips landed to her cheeks and down every pore and fibre of her body. When Emily fully released her, her cheeks were flushed and her brown eyes didn't quite meet Naomi's ones. Emily threw a tiny wave and hurried after JJ into the station, disappearing out of her life.
"Shall we grab some food?" Freddie asked her.
Freddie held her hand as they walked; chatting away happily and not noticing how quiet Naomi had gone. Naomi absent-mindedly touched the spot on her cheek that Emily kissed. And she felt something she had never felt before in her life.
Naomi woke with a jolt. She tossed about her large bed for a few seconds before opening her eyes, squinting. Her room was bathed in brilliant white light streaming through the windows. The bright light was causing her head to hurt. She looked at the clock on her bedside table; it was just after 3pm; that explained why she was famished. She hadn't had dinner last night, choosing instead to go to bed and bury herself under the covers, eventually falling asleep.
She eyed the tiny square box beside her clock, thoughts flashing back to what happened a week ago. She remembered being invited over after work, having a good home cooked dinner and giving a simple gift to mark their four years. Then she remembered freezing up, wordless and shocked. She clearly remembered his face falling and trying to smile again. He said many words, but she couldn't remember much of it. She was trying to picture something in her head instead but her mind refused to form the images.
All she heard was that he gave her a week to think about it but she already had her answer. Still, she kept it to herself, hoping she would change her mind a week later. He gave the box to her.
Yesterday, she called him on the phone. She was a day early but it didn't matter. She reckoned that if sitting through six days wouldn't change her mind, prolonging it one more day to tell him her decision didn't help at all; it either gave him hope or increased his disappointment.
As she had imagined, he didn't take it too well. His words were laced with frustration, confusion, anger, disappointment and disbelief. Didn't these three years mean anything to you? He asked. Naomi kept quiet; both of them were quiet. She could hear the deafening silence resonating over the line and his shallow breathing. Sorry.
He asked her what this meant, whether this was too fast and she wanted to wait another year instead. He asked her if it was money she was worried about.
It was nothing like that. Naomi just couldn't see herself with him for the rest of her life. It was that simple and that brutal.
Let's take a break.
After she said those words and more silence followed, she hung up the phone feeling like the worst person she had ever been and crawled into bed, staying there till this afternoon. She hadn't even called in sick; she had gone awol. She quickly fired a text to her boss.
She pulled off her duvet as it was making her too warm and stared up at the ceiling. Strangely she didn't feel upset or guilty anymore; she thought that the guilt would continue to eat at her, that she would feel like shit even after more than twelve hours of sleep. Instead, she felt a sense of relief, lightness, like something she didn't know that was heavy had slipped off her shoulders. She sat up, feeling like she had just emerged out of the water and was taking the first breath of air in the longest time.
Her phone buzzed indicating a message. He boss acknowledged her absence. Naomi read the text and placed the phone in front of her on the duvet casually.
Her thoughts suddenly snapped to the girl she met last month in Singapore. She had stored her number in her phone immediately when she got back to the hostel that day in case she lost that precious piece of paper. Truthfully, she had been occasionally thinking about the girl, more often than she should. She would catch herself daydreaming about that moment in the rain under the umbrella with the girl's arm wrapped around her waist.
Naomi knew Emily was back in Bristol and had been for at least two weeks but she never had the courage to text her. She actually formed a simple text message the very day she returned to London but stored it as a draft in her phone thinking that maybe Emily wouldn't exactly remember her since she had met many people from the countries she had travelled in and gave her number to others.
When Freddie proposed to her last week, Naomi had an urge to call Emily out of the blue to let her know, to ask her if she should do it. It was a crazy idea; Emily wouldn't give her an answer, and it felt wrong, so she didn't do it. Right now, she had the urge again. This time, it didn't feel wrong to call her but it was still crazy. Half of her heart was chicken shit; the other half was impulsive and irrational.
With one elbow on her knee, propping her head with her hand, she bent her head over her phone, her blonde hair falling messily down her face, and flicked her index finger over the screen, searching. She stared at the tiny characters for a long time. She had been done this before and had chickened out each time.
Her finger hovered precariously over the string of numbers.