One night everyone’s gone up for sleep and Katie’s still downstairs keeping an inventory of the fridge when Emily comes down for a drink of water.
They’re silent, so awkwardly still around one another, and Katie can’t remember the last time they just didn’t know how to be around one another.
“Alright?” she tries.
Emily sips at her water and chews on her bottom lip. “Yeah. How’re you?”
Katie shrugs. “You uh...are you and Naomi doing alright?”
Emily nods slowly. “It’s hard,” she says with a sad shrug, “But it’s worth it, you know?”
Katie nods. Well no she doesn’t. But fuck it if Emily’s about to go into detail of how hard being in a relationship is, how hard it is to be adored everyday, how hard it is to work with somebody, to stop being Me and start thinking We. Fuck it.
“Are you getting ready for classes?”
Emily nods. She finishes her water and rinses it out. She dries her lips with the back of her hand then hesitates before leaving. “Get some sleep.”
Katie’s closing the fridge to stop the annoying humming sound when Emily’s already climbing back up the stairs. “Yeah,” she says absently to an empty kitchen.
Cook makes jokes. Not all the time, but sometimes, he’ll make a really funny joke, something really very witty, something quite observative, and she’ll laugh a loud one, and he’ll smile, and for a moment they’re really just sitting, and being, and smiling at one another.
And in another instant their smiles with flicker away. And he’ll ask about Effy. And she’ll answer.
Like this one time. They’re on the living room floor, and Cook’s telling her about this one time he was a waiter at a little cafe in Versailles, and his hands are making all these random signals and movements in the air, they’re almost as distracting, but she can’t help but laugh.
“What?” he asks, turning to her with this smile, this smile that lights up his entire face, and he looks so young, and alive.
“Nothing,” she responds, stifling her breathy giggles. His hands have just stilled in mid-air, forming some odd triangle shape, and she laughs again.
He laughs, a real one, and his teeth are so bright and sharp, and his eyes do this crinkly thing at the corners, and they just laugh, and laugh, connecting eyes every few seconds.
When she gets up to go sleep moments later, she places her hands down on the floor to raise herself, only to land on his own hand for a moment, feeling the skin of his fingers, coarse hairs. She can feel the anger, the tension in them. And the calm, the warmth. She shifts her hand off him and gets up. Mumbles an apology.
This other time, Cook comes completely unannounced.
She’s with Effy, and they’re reading a book, a horrible horrible book by some Beckett figure Tony recommended, and debating whether to burn or rip it apart. It’s dark, yes, but Effy giggles, and it’s so rare to hear the girl laugh, so rare to see her smile, that the nurses have encouraged whatever it is that’ll make her genuinely crack a grin.
There’s a gentle rapping at the door and Cook swerves in, closing the door behind him.
The two of them are up in a flash. “Cook!” Katie hisses at him.
He raises his hands in protest and flashes his grin. “I wasn’t seen, luv.”
Katie gets out of bed, slaps his arm. “How the fuck did you get out of the house? How did you-”
“Don’t worry babe, I’ve got my-”
She slaps his arm again. “I’m not your babe.”
“Come on, just be happy to see Cookie.”
“You’re such a child-“ She moves to slap him again but he takes her wrists and pulls them to him, and she staggers slightly, and their bodies are flush against each other, and she can feel him, everywhere. “Shh,” he says, and his lips, they’re just so close. Everything is so close. “Don’t wake Nancy,” he says with a grin.
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t,” he says with a tsking grin, letting loose of her wrists and turning to Effy. “Does she, princess?”
And it’s only then Katie remembers they’ve been in this room, in front of Effy. And she’s painfully aware of how wet her knickers are.
Effy smiles a hesitant smile. So different from her mischievous one. This one was filled with confusion, with some sort of dread. “No,” she breathes, “She doesn’t.”
“There we are,” Cook says with a laugh and lets down his suspenders. He walks over to Effy’s bed and sits beside her, taking her hand in his.
Katie’s out of the room in a flash and calms herself down in the bathroom.
Cook wants to read. She’d never thought he’d be a reader but one night they’re alone and he makes her dinner, telling her about this one time when he hopped the trains over and over, all day long in Paris, just to get around, to get some fresh air. And after a few stops you think you’ve seen it all, but you still enjoy that movement, the free-moving vehicle is so soothing you could sit there for ages. And he’d picked up reading, borrowing some books from fellow passengers, or purchasing some of his own. And there’s something so...grown up. About it all. She sits there in the kitchen, prepping for her courses that’ll start soon, and but finds herself watching him in Emily’s lime green apron, salting the pasta with his fingers above the pan, talking about this bloke Kerouac. It’s all so domestic. And easy, and comfortable. And normal. And she can’t help but
“Babe?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “Yeah.”
“So. I never got around to finishing that one. After he pissed on it I sort of left it for the dogs. Smelled enough like piss on my own, didn’t need to carry a paperback of it, you know.”
He tries a pasta and smiles at its texture, scooping some onto two plates. “So could you get a copy for me, down at the library? Or..wherever you know.” He comes to the table with the plates, placing hers down first. “Bon appetit,” he says in a horrible french accent. He waits until she starts eating and then he begins, and she suddenly wants to cry. Fucking bawl tears and lose her voice and just make this stop. Make all of this stop.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she says instead.
“People aren’t made for each other, you know?” Tony says, blowing some smoke into the air, passing her the spliff. They’re on the grass outside of Effy’s window, watching the stars. Effy’s lounging against the window frame, slowly drifting off to sleep, inhaling the cool summer night air and second-hand smoke. “People aren’t actually made for each other, there’s no such thing as soul mates. Not really. I used to think so. There was only one person out there for each of us. Up to us to not let it go when you’re lucky enough to find ‘em.”
She passes it back the spliff.
He takes it with a soft thanks. “But it’s not true. Sometimes we meet the right person, and it takes us a while to realize it. A real while. Maybe they’re with someone else, sort of..equally blind to you. It takes a while. And you never considered them because...well they weren’t the one for you. But after a while you start to realize they are, you just met them in the wrong context, you met them when they were already stamped with someone else’s name on them, you know?”
She stops listening after that. He starts talking about patience and destiny and New York of all places and some random Cassie waitress. It’s all just words, really. He eventually passes the spliff back to her to finish, which she does, at a phenomenally fast pace. By the time she’s stubbing it out, she can barely hear him, and the haze is filling her head and washing over the dead-lock feeling in her chest.
“Are you listening?”
No, she really wasn’t, but she managed to hear those words.
“I was in New York. I should’ve been in school but I’d gone to New York to find her.”
At one point she does get around to going to the library and uses the machine to find Kerouac, Jack for the first time in her life. Beat Poetry. She raises an eyebrow. Never imagined he’d be into beat poetry, that was the shite Naomi liked, and fuck it was dull, especially when she’d read it aloud. Nonetheless she copies down the address and goes on her hunt, groaning as a poster on the wall shows it’ll be three floors up. No one ever fucking goes up to the third floor, she’ll be kidnapped and taken advantage of in no time.
Of course when she finally does get to the section up on the third floor she hears it already. Hushed voices and the dropping of books onto the floor, the rattling of shelves. She checks the location on her paper and marches in her direction, sighing when she realizes she’s only approaching the noise. Of course she is.
“You’re sssupposed...t-to be helping me ff! Fffind...”
“E-emily...fucking christ...” A groan. More books falling.
Katie sighs in frustration, in exhaustion, in absolute exhaustion, two rows away. Turns on her heel and heads back downstairs.
She returns to get the book the next day, in broad daylight.
Tony leaves earlier than they expected he would. Really just packs right on up and is heading back out after visiting. He spends a few moments with Effy, touching her face, her hands, whispering something to her she’s clearly gobbling up, and Katie can’t help but feel sick. He’s leaving. They always leave, siblings. They pretend they care. But they don’t. Not really.
“I’ll see you around, Katie?” he asks her when they cross paths in the hallway.
She scrunches her lips together in response.
And so ended the run-in with the great Tony Stonem.
They’re having one of their last dinners with Emily and Naomi when it becomes clear they’re having a fight. Naomi’s passing the broccoli to Cook when Emily accidentally elbows her and suddenly sparks are flying everywhere. And Emily wants to confront it now, in front of them, now now now before it blows even more out of proportion but Naomi’s being passive aggressive. It’s all so very horrible, really, ending with Naomi eventually slapping down her fork with a loud clatter and Cook nearly jumps out of his skin at the sound. No one notices but Katie, really, and she can’t help but see his fingers cringing on his napkin, nails digging, his breath coming in short gasps.
“Get the fuck out of here, bitches, take it upstairs,” she says in such a tone that they’re both already marching up. They’re alone, and Katie decides to get down on one knee to him in his seat. It’s what her mum used to do. Lower yourself so that even when their heads hang, they still see you’re there for them. “Cook?”
“Sorry,” he says, still cringing, rubbing at his eyes that are now tearing. He sniffs strongly and the tears are gone, replaced with shaky breaths and shuddering shoulders. “Bad tear with some wanker in Sorbonne. Had this uhh...had this fooking fork.” He rubs his arm absently, and her eyes widen. “Fuckin French think they know everything, yeah?”
Katie tries for a smile, but can’t. Instead she places her hand on his, very tentatively. “Are you okay?” she asks hesitantly. He tries for a smile too, succeeding better than she did. She takes the moment to raise his shirt just a bit, and runs her fingers over a dark red slit with holes in his forearm. “Cook,” she breathes. How on earth had she not noticed it?
He moves it away from her and makes a clicking sound with his tongue. He winks at her, lifting her chin with his finger. “Ship shape, babe.”
She exhales a careful smile. “Not your babe.”
“There’s that smile.”
The last Thursday night they have before school, Effy takes her hand with that mysterious smile again and brings them somewhere new, and through the backdoor. She gives a head nod to the bouncer, a friendly looking buff who winks at her. ‘Drinks,’ Effy calls to her once they’re in, slipping some notes in her hand and floating into the noisy crowd. The music is loud, jazzy, and Katie hates to admit; catchy and easy to dance to. She pushes her way through a crowd of giggling girls who’d begun eyeing her up and down since they got in, making a beeline for the bar.
“Can I get some service here please?” she huffs, waving her hand.
A dirty blonde with long, curly locks moves over to her, resting on her arms so...comfortably, for a bartender. “What can I get you, gorgeous?”
“Two gin and tonics.” She hands her money over.
The girl smiles, leaning over the counter. “You’ll have to speak up.”
Katie glides in. “Two gin and tonics.”
The smile grows, and she speaks even lower. “Still can’t hear you.”
Katie places her hands on the counter and leans forward. “Two gin and tonics.” The bartender’s smile softens and Katie spots a twinkle in her eye and is suddenly painfully aware of just how close they are, and can feel her breath on her lips.
“You got it,” she says with a lick of her lips and Katie feels a head rush as she moves over to her drinks. What the fuck...She turns around slowly, knowing and realizing what she’ll see in any case, but turning nonetheless.
Girls. Fucking everywhere. Fucking everywhere.
A tap on the shoulder and she swings back; two perfect gin and tonics, sitting neatly with stirring sticks. “Paid for,” the bartender says almost sadly, “By that brunette over by the entrance.” She motions with a thumb and Katie grabs the drink, uncaring, unwilling, incapable of following the motion.
“Thanks,” she mutters, and swings her way through the crowd of women grinding, flirting, laughing, dancing. She downs her drink before even seeing Effy on the dance floor. She’s dancing like a goddess, hopping from one foot to the other, a gorgeous redhead kissing her neck, and palming her tit, a blonde with lightning blue streaks full on snogging her, with a hand on her waist and the other in her hair. She looks fucking sexy, like a goddess in heat; wanton and wanted and completely deceptively obtainable.
She breaks her kiss and smiles at Katie with one of her ‘gotcha’ expressions. “Katie,” she laughs, as the redhead stubbornly continues to kiss her neck. She takes the drink and downs it in a flash, laughing again when the blonde fumbles for it and throws it behind her, grabbing Effy in for another forceful kiss.
Katie’s mouth has just sunk from the floor to the basement. She hears more giggling and turns in time to see the group of giggling girls still giggling at her, some cleverly about to...make a move on her or something. Sighing the Effy situation off with a half-hearted ‘urgh’, she rushes to the bathroom, which has probably to Naomi’s delight been marked gender neutral. Probably not the safest place to be alone, but it was all she could think of, and another group of tittering girls are exiting the bathroom with glee. She pushes past them and sighs softly in relief as the door closes behind her and the stalls are surprisingly empty save for one. She’s about to fix her hair which has gone curiously astray in the mirror when she realizes the hard, steady thrumming isn’t from the sink.
Rap. Rap. Moan. Rap. Gasp.
A hard, familiar grinding of bodies and sounds of frenzied kissing, and two distinct shuddering breaths battling against one another.
Oh. That’s fantastic, really.
“Christ, you’re so...fucking...wet...”
“Harder, Naoms. Oh right there...there..theretheretherethere...”
“Can’t even wait until we get home-”
“No..no, yes..yes...yess..oh fuck me...”
She brushes out of the loo. “For fuck’s sake, doesn’t anybody suck cock anymore!?” Katie shouts at a pair of giggling girls as they enter the loo hand-in-hand. She makes her way onto the dance floor again, trying to pound the sounds out of her head when she spots Effy back on the floor, this time with a tall girl with jet-black hair and ripped jeans. “Effy, what the fuck,” she finally manages as she pulls the girl away. Effy giggles and Katie knows she’s taken something. She pushes a frustrating stone down her throat. “Effy please. Let’s go.”
“Katie,” Effy pants happily, her eyes closing and opening at random, she places unsteady, warm hands on Katie’s shoulders. “Katie, lighten up and broaden your horizons.”
Katie sneers, again aware of their proximity. “You’re batshit,” she mumbles, trying weakly to shake her hands off her, but finds herself tightening her grip on her wrists. “Come on, Eff, let’s get you back.”
“Katie, it’s alright,” Effy says dreamily, “You can have him. I don’t even want him.”
Another head rush and Katie blinks herself back. She didn’t just hear-she couldn’t have just-that wouldn’t make any sense anyway. “What?” she asks incredulously instead. She observes the girl’s swaying and fumbling hands, eyes closing and wavering, drunken smile. Then pauses, and feels all this weight, all this sadness plummet into her eyes, and hates that it’s there. “Yes you do,” she says so quietly she’s surprised she’s said it aloud at all, let alone loud enough for Effy to hear. But a falter in the girl’s smile lets them both know she did, and for the first time, Katie lets Effy’s hand go as she slips back into the crowd with the lost, abandoned blue eyes she hasn’t seen surface in years.
She goes home alone.
She sees Cook is in the closet space still awake, reading. She can’t bring herself to say anything, so she walks past it as quickly as possible.
He twists his head at the sound of her footsteps. “Babe?” he calls out, getting up immediately and heading out into the hallway but she closes the door. He knocks softly. “Babe?” he asks. Nothing. He swallows. “Katie?”
“Leave me alone.”
Emily’s the first to take notice, and there’s merit behind that.
In the morning, she comes to her when Katie’s washing the dishes and places a hand on her shoulder. “Katie?” she asks, in that child-like voice, so similar to her middle-school one. She rubs her shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“When did that become important?” Katie asks, scrubbing harder at a dish.
And Emily just hugs her, from the back, a real, warm hug. “Thank you for everything,” she says weakly, and Katie can only stay still until Emily’s all hugged out.
“When did anything I want become important?” she asks herself quietly when Emily’s gone.
Things have gotten a little bit weirder with Effy since the night. They talk less. Treat one another like company, but less as friends. It’s so horrible, really, because there’s no reason for it. There should never be a reason for it. And when Cook comes by to visit and he asks Katie to stay in the room, there’s a flash of something she can’t read in Effy’s eyes. Like hurt. Like betrayal. But she can’t understand why it’s there.
“Always the hopeless wanderer, aren’t you, Cook,” Effy says with a smile to him, caressing his hair. “I love that about you.”
Katie watches as he edges his hair out of her grasp. “Yeah,” he says with a mandatory grin, a tinge of something Katie’s sure Effy can’t see.
When Emily and Naomi leave, it’s more awkward, and Katie hates that. Who’d have guessed these two were sister, really.
They have a hug at the house, because Cook can’t leave with them obviously, and Katie opts to stay with him anyway. Another hug from Naomi that Katie feels so unfortunately bland, and another from Emily, who kisses her cheek and whispers, “Keep in touch.”
And then they’re gone. With a wave from the cab they’re off and Cook even puts his arm around her.
“We’re really growing up, aren’t we, babe?” he says, and so seriously, with such a low tone, that Katie can’t help but sniff at it. They really are.
It’d been such a long haul to that last week when they’d left. More fighting, more makeup sex, more fighting, more disgustingly public displays of affection that even Cook began to tire of, and they’d exchange glances from across the table. Emily had changed. So much. And Katie?
Well, she muses to herself one night in bed, maybe you don’t change. When you stay in Bristol. When you stay home, maybe things just don’t change.
But then she hears Cook in the kitchen downstairs rifling through the cupboards for a late night snack and thinks, maybe not.
Maybe some people just change for the worst.
Maybe some people just grow apart.
It’s only a matter of time before he goes, too.
“They’ll be releasing me next week,” Effy says calmly one afternoon.
Katie looks up from the chess board. “What?”
Effy nods. “They-well. I feel like I’m ready.”
Katie looks about the room, uncertain as to what to say. “Oh.”
Effy places her hand on Katie’s. “It’s time.”
So wait a minute, what does this mean about us?
Are we okay?
He’s just a boy.
So many things she wants to say to Effy. So many things flying through her mind that night, when she sits alone in the almost dark in the living room, scratching at her perfect nails.
It’s so enormously soothing, his voice, that she does, in fact, cry.
“Babe, b-babe, what’s wrong?” He’s down on his knees in front of her, imitating her exact position. He takes her hands in his and kisses them, the same way he kisses Effy’s hands. And she sobs harder.
“Please don’t go,” she musters out.
He hugs her, so tightly and yet so carefully, and she’s never felt so warm, so protected. “Shh shh shh,” he says, shaking them from side to side.
“Please no,” she says into his shoulder, sniffing. “Please, please.”
“You know I can’t stay,” he says.
He brings her up to her room. He offers to carry her, but she chooses to walk, so he stands behind her, making sure she can feel his hands on her shoulder, ready to catch her should she lose her balance on the stairs. He swallows hard through the whole walk, and when they pass his closet, he discreetly blocks it, for fear she should see his packed duffel bag, and his stupid, stupid letter to her that now seems useless. She sits slowly on her bed and watches him sit beside her. He forgoes turning on the light, and they rely on a bright sliver of gold shining through the slit of her open bedroom door. He puts his hand on hers. She closes her eyes and lets a few more tears slide down her cheeks. “Cook,” she breathes.
“I didn’t-” he tries, but bites his lower lip and changes his tactic. “It’s better if I don’t have a reason to come back. Yknow? Still gunna keep to my cards here,” he pats his chest, “Disappear into the night, you’ll never know where I am.” She shakes her head and turns away, so he tightens his grip on her hand. “Come on,” he says strongly, “Come on babe, this doesn’t have to be so hard, let’s just part as mates and be done with it, yeah?”
Katie sighs a hurt laugh. “You say we’re growing up,” she says slowly, “But all you do is keep running.” She sniffs and turns to him, steadying her eyes. “You need to grow up too, Cook.”
And she can see something in his eyes disconnect. He swallows again and stretches his neck. Clearing his through, he kisses her hand again. “You should get some sleep,” he says almost in pain.
Maybe it isn’t that nobody stays in Bristol.
Maybe people just leave her.
She wakes the next morning fully tucked into her bed, a bit of mascara on her pillow sheet and she grumbles a ‘shit’ before suddenly realizing everything of last night. She gets up quickly and looks around her empty room, bursts out the bedroom and rushes to his closet door. And she knows it, but she can’t quite bring herself to just let it go, so she opens it anyway, sliding down to the floor in pain at the empty room presenting itself to her, the cold hardwood almost snickering, “You silly, silly girl.”
She closes the closet and locks it.
Just to be dramatic.
Effy is released the next week. There is little to say. She brings her home to Anthea.
“Thank you, Katie,” Anthea says with a smile, bringing her daughter into their home.
“No problem,” Katie says with a weary smile she’s so torn feels fake, and cold.
“Thanks, Katie,” Effy says, a wispiness to her voice that’s come back. She flutters some fingers as an odd salute. “Now go be magical.”
Her eyebrows arch but she can’t get a word in before the door’s being closed in her face almost immediately.
They’re still searching for Cook. Another random update on the website mentions one James Cook Jr is still out in the world probably looking for more heads to bash in, that kids should be kept indoors, and knickers locked up. It’s all more than enough to do her head in, Katie gives up on reading the paper. She lights a fag in her kitchen and puffs at the ceiling. Listens to the tiny cracks of a rickety flat. It’s quiet. It’s always quiet in Bristol. When you’re the only one left, that is.
Effy calls her once a month, maybe. They get together and share a spliff by the dock, talk about nothing, or just sit in silence. She’s got a new man, Effy. Paul from Room 52.
“When did that happen?” Katie asks.
Effy shrugs. “Last month maybe.” She places the spliff between her lips and holds it there with two fingers, daintily extending out her arm on her knee and exhaling slowly.
Katie rarely talks about her own life. Effy doesn’t ask. Effy never really did ask, did she. Effy’s not really interested in Katie. Effy’s not really interested in much.
By December they’ve probably fallen out of touch, and when Katie’s got some free time over the weekend, she chooses instead to have a girls’ night in with Sascha and Melanie from English Lit 314.
She gets a postcard, though.
Around Christmas. It’s timed fucking perfectly, really.
It’s a picture of that stupid fucking pig movie in the 90’s; Babe. And it kills her inside when she flips it around and there’s nothing there. Just an empty postcard.
No one understands who it’s from. Not even Emily.
“Forget it,” she mumbles hastily to them all, shoving the postcard in her pocket.