‘Come on, don’t be a dick Erin, just spin it already!’
She looks at all the familiar faces around her, and sighs in utter despair.
There are about three boys playing, four counting James, and only one she's interested in.
So far, she’s had to sit through him kissing literally every other girl but her, while she’s had to kiss Jenny Joyce’s cheek about two times more than she would have liked. Which is zero, for the record.
So what if she holds on to the bottle for a couple seconds? A quick prayer never hurt anyone.
‘I’m gonna go, I have to rehearse with the band.’
She blinks, her chin practically disappearing into her neck.
‘You can’t leave! We’re already in short supply of fellas, have some pity!’
He shrugs, a sorry smile on his face, and she doesn’t know what comes over her when she hears herself call:
‘Lightning round! Seven minutes in heaven!’
There’s a murmur going through the group, and she’s almost certain she hears Michelle whisper something about self-respect, but she doesn’t care. David sits back, and she spins the bottle, closing her eyes to pray some more.
Please let it be David. Please, Lord Almighty.
There’s an audible gasp, and she opens her eyes slowly, following the tip of the bottle all the way up to James’ panicked face.
This has got to be a joke.
She sits as far away from him as possible, her knee bumping against a box of roller skates, and she groans. They’re still sitting way too close for her liking, but that’s more of an issue coming from the fact that they’re in Clare’s closet and not Jenny Joyce’s.
She can hear people cackling outside, and all she wants to do is cry.
‘Erin’s about to snog an English fella!’
‘No, the fuck she’s not!’ Michelle’s voice covers the laughter, and she hears a slapping sound that can only mean that her friend’s attacking the poor fella.
‘So…’ James asks, his voice barely a whisper.
‘I’m not kissing you, James!’ She hisses.
He sits back, his hands around his knees, and she softens up a little.
‘I mean. You don’t want to kiss me either anyway.’
There’s a statue of Jesus wailing on the cross right above their heads, and she glares at him with angry eyes. Serves her right, locking her in there with an English boy. The irony is not lost on her.
‘It’s because of the English thing, isn’t it?’
‘As a matter of fact, it isn’t.’
‘What? Why, then?!’
‘It’s because you’re one of us, and also because Michelle forbids it and quite frankly, she scares me sometimes.’
‘She also said I shouldn’t, because you’re obsessed with me. Ha! As if!’
He shuffles awkwardly, bumping his head into the shelf behind him. Above them, the wee Jesus on the cross shakes, casting a disapproving glare onto the pair.
‘Right, as if!’
‘This is classic, really. I’m about to turn seventeen, I’ll never have snogged anybody, and the one fella I could, I’m not allowed to!’ ’Not that I want to.’ she adds quickly.
She looks down to her hands, ears burning, eyes filling up with tears of frustration.
‘Would it really be so bad? They’re going to think we kissed anyway.’
She gives him a look, unsure of what he’s trying to say.
‘I just...Pictured my first kiss to be different, is all. Kind of perfect, if I’m honest.’
He shakes his head.
‘Not all first kisses are perfect, Erin. In fact, very few are.’
She rolls her eyes, but there’s a hint of a smile on her lips.
‘You say that as if Katya mounting you in front of everybody wasn’t your biggest dream, you perv.’
‘It wasn’t! In what world would I possibly want that?!’
‘You didn’t seem to mind that much.’
‘I just had this idea… In my mind, that my first kiss was going to be special. Something to wax poetry about. I know it’s stupid, but that’s what I wanted.’
She can feel him stare at her, and she bites her lip. She’s used to being vulnerable when she writes in her diary. Talking about her own feelings out loud, with James of all people… It’s a whole other thing.
‘Close your eyes.’ He says suddenly.
‘Just... Do it, please?’
She doesn’t know what possesses her to do so.
Her heart is beating like crazy, waiting, expecting. When she feels a shaky hand on her neck, she almost jumps, getting goosebumps all over her body.
Nothing prepares her for what it feels like to be kissed by one James Maguire.
His lips are soft, way softer than she would have gathered, and she feels the blood rush to her ears. His thumb starts stroking her cheek gently, and she tries - tries - to keep it together.
She’s pretty sure she’s going to want to remember this.
The feeling of his nose brushing against hers. His ragged breath, betraying his turmoil of emotions, while her hand courses through his curls.
She wants it to last forever, because this is so. Much. Better than kissing the back of her own hand.
He bites her lip, possibly by chance, and her breath hitches.
When he does it again, she feels something twist inside of her, and she suddenly understands what’s so wicked about English boys.
There is absolutely no way he’s doing this by accident.
He smiles against her mouth, and she fights the urge to open her eyes.
‘The seven minutes are over, motherfucka- What the fuck?!’
She tries to push James away before Michelle gets a chance to take it all in, but she can feel her hair being properly messed up, and her lips being swollen and red. There’s no hiding from this.
‘Have you lost it, Erin?’
‘What’s going on?’ a voice raises from the group.
‘She was riding James!’
‘I wasn’t riding James!’ She tries to counter, but Michelle holds up her finger.
‘I’m going to be sick.’
‘Not on my carpet, my ma’s going to kill me!’
‘I wasn’t. Riding. James!!’ Erin shouts, walking away from the closet as fast as possible.
She turns around, trying to avoid looking at him, but she doesn’t know what’s worse.
Michelle looks like she’s actually about to be sick, Orla’s eyes are bigger than an owl’s, and Clare has tears in her eyes, probably from panicking over making a mess of her mother’s house.
‘He kissed me, I didn’t kiss him!’ She says, trying to keep some dignity.
‘Aye Erin, I knew you were desperate but an English man?’ Michelle frowns.
‘He kissed me!’
‘So you say.’ Orla adds, shrugging.
‘She’s right, actually.’
All heads turn towards James, and when she looks at him, she feels her stomach drop. His eyes betray the hurt he’s probably feeling, and his lips are sealed into a thin line.
She should say something. It’s not fair for him to take the blow when he was only trying to do a nice thing. She wants to say something, but as usual, her words get stuck in her throat.
Maybe that’s why she’s such a boring writer. All her good words stay too close to her heart.
‘Looks like Erin had a good time, though.’ Jenny chimes in.
‘Piss off, Jenny.’ They answer in unison.
He locks eyes with her, and she feels the tip of her ears burn, but tries to give him a small smile anyway.
He looks away.
I’m sorry I let you take the blame for what happened at Clare’s party. I panicked
Can we talk? My ma wants to know if you’ll join us for the big picnic next weekend.
Will you get over it already?
I miss you.
‘This is getting ridiculous.’ Michelle moans.
‘I’m not the one avoiding him. He’s avoiding me!’ She says.
They haven’t talked in a week. James and her. When Michelle comes to her house, she’s alone, and at school, Clare ends up taking most of her breaks with him while the rest of the girls sit at the other end of the hall.
‘Right he is, but you could go and talk to the poor fella! You know where I live.’
She rolls her eyes.
‘I’m not going to force him to talk to me.’
‘Christ, Erin but you can be so bullheaded when you want to!’
‘She’s right, Erin. You’re tearing us apart!’ Clare whines.
‘Have you no pity for Clare! Look at her, she’s a mess!’ Michelle adds, pointing to their friend.
Clare looks about as good as the sheep they’d ran over on their way to the Take That concert.
‘Clare looks perfectly fine to me.’ She lies.
‘No I don’t, Michelle’s right! I’m a bloody mess! We have enough tensions in our country as is, it’s too much, and I can’t cope! I can’t be doing with this Erin, you have to fix it!’ Clare explodes.
She stares at her three friends in shock.
They expect her to cave in. To go talk to him, and pretend everything’s the way it was before.
As if she’s the one ignoring him, pretending he doesn’t exist. As if she was the one who didn’t care about their friendship.
They expect her to cave in. What they don’t expect, however, is her eyes filling up with tears. Her chin trembles, and she tries to stop it, but it’s too late.
‘What the fuck?!’ Michelle shouts.
‘Oh Erin, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it, I can cope, look how well I’m coping!’ Clare screeches, hugging her tight.
‘Aye, I knew he was bad at snogging, but to cry, Erin?’ Orla says, but holds her hand all the same.
‘I didn’t want to mess things up! I just wanted to kiss David Donnelly, that’s all! I did nothing wrong! And now he’s mad at me and I don’t know why! I wrote him letters, but he hasn’t said a thing!’ She wails.
Clare exchanges a look with Michelle, who still stands in front of her.
‘Oh, For fuck’s sake.’ She says, and walks out of her bedroom.
‘Where are you going?’ Erin sniffles.
‘I’m going to fix this.’
‘Erin, phone for ya!’
She walks down the stairs, ready to yell at whoever’s calling her. She hasn’t seen Michelle and Clare since her meltdown, and Orla is proving to be of no help. There are about five to ten aborted letters at the foot of her bed, all addressed to James, and she still can’t find the proper words to fix this.
James’ voice resonates on the other end of the line, and her heart skips a beat.
‘It’s, uh. It’s James.’
She pauses, brushing a wild strand of hair away from her face.
‘Is.. is everything alright? Does Deirdre need her big bowl in the end?’
‘Things are… fine. I just rang to ask you if I could come over.’
‘You want to- I mean I need to ask my ma’, but-’
She turns to her mother, preparing to ask for permission, but Mary is already nodding, her ear stuck to their other landline. She rolls her eyes.
‘Nevermind, she says it’s fine.’
‘I’ll see you in a bit?’
She nods and then realizes he can’t see her.
‘Yes. Yes, see you in a bit.’
I’m sorry I can’t talk to you right now. God knows I want to.
I’d love to come to the big picnic but I’m a bit busy next weekend
I need a bit of time to gather how I feel
I miss you too.
‘Your Mum said something about keeping the door open, but it was kind of hard to make out because she was scrubbing the windows, so...’
He's standing in her bedroom, all stupid cheekbones and stupid jacket, and she tries not to look at him. She wants to, so badly, but she's not sure she's in a position to handle it.
‘Go on then, say your piece.’
Once again, her own words sound way harsher than she means them to, but the sooner this all ends, the sooner she can cry about it.
He clenches his jaw, and she braces herself.
Here it comes.
‘Okay, well...Listen, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while. And I’m sorry if I’ve been distant, it's just that I needed some time to sort my thoughts.’
He stops, obviously struggling to find his words, and she feels her eyes water again. She’d told herself that she was going to be fine with it, that James wasn’t even a big part of her life. But as he opens his mouth, all she wants is to beg him to stop.
‘I didn’t kiss you because you were desperate.’
‘I kissed you because I wanted to. I've wanted to for a while, in fact.’
Her eyes grow tenfold.
‘I -I took advantage of the situation, and I’ve felt terrible ever since. I’m so, so sorry Erin.’
This doesn’t make any sense. Everyone, everyone in her life has made it very clear that she was to die alone, surrounded by books and jammy dodgers.
No one’s ever kissed her. No one’s ever wanted to.
‘You...you wanted to? Why?’
He rubs his hand on the back of his neck, looking mildly uncomfortable.
‘Come on, Erin. Don’t be daft.’
There’s a blush creeping on his cheeks, and she feels her heartbeat quicken. She takes a step closer to him, maintaining eye contact.
‘Holy shit. ‘
‘Can we not?’
‘Michelle was right. You are obsessed with me.’
He takes a step back, bumping into her closet door.
‘There might be a bit of fancying around.’ he says, looking everywhere but at her.
‘Is that so?’ She breathes out.
He nods, and she feels something inside. Something pulling her to him, and for the first time in her life, she knows exactly what to do.
‘Close your eyes.’
‘Close your eyes, James.’
He does. She presses a hand on his chest, and she can feel how fast his heart is going. Good, because hers is going just the same.
She takes a second to look at him. Right there, with his back against the wall, hands in his pockets he looks so open, so vulnerable that she’s almost scared.
She usually doesn’t care much for other people’s emotions, especially boys’.
But James isn’t a boy.
He’s one of them.
He’s the fella who gave up his Doctor Who night -creep convention, she corrects herself- to bring her to prom.
He’s the fella who didn’t use to belong to anyone, but now belongs to all of them.
The last thing she wants to do is hurt him, or his feelings.
He’s delicate, an English rose among thorns.
She steps on the tip of her toes, trying to keep her breath from betraying how nervous she is, and places her lips on his.
She tries to go slow. To be sweet, like he was with her. She has no interest in attacking him like Katya did. Because, she realizes with a bit of a shock, she’s not kissing him to prove a point, or because she wants to be kissed.
She’s kissing him to tell him everything she can’t express with her own words.
I hated it when you called her your girlfriend.
His hands slowly leave his pockets to rest on the back of her arms, pulling her closer ever so slightly.
I wouldn’t have been happier if John Paul had been behind that door.
She presses herself against him, and he does that thing again. Biting her lip. She bites his lip back, and she feels his breath hitch.
I thought my heart was breaking into bits when you left.
She smiles, letting her forehead rest against his, and tries to catch on her breath. He laughs a little, and she kisses him again, and again, for there are many things left unsaid.
I love that you smile at things like they’re the most beautiful sight you’ve ever set your eyes on.
I love that you kissed me because you wanted to.
I love you.
She intertwines her fingers with his, because that’s as close as they can get under ma’s roof before getting behead, and she catches her breath again, looking at him with dazed eyes.
As far as she’s concerned, her first kiss was nothing short of spectacular.
Her second one, however, is perfect .
When they come back downstairs, all rosy cheeks and disheveled hair, Ma Mary doesn’t pipe a word.
There are a great many things she pretends not to see.
The looks they exchange when the girls get together and study.
The fact that somehow, when Michelle leaves, James seems to linger for a bit longer.
Their fingers grazing each other under the table.
His hand, pressed in the small of her back when they think no one is paying attention.
She could, and should get an award for her performance as a naive mother. Forget Keyser Söze, she’s the real deal.
‘I’m going to Fionnula’s!’ Erin shouts from the stairs, jumping two steps at a time.
‘Aye, sure you are.’ She mutters under her breath as she scrubs her big bowl vigorously.
Nevermind that they’re still banned.
She allows herself a quick peep through her window. Sure enough, he’s there, smiling and laughing, and she rolls her eyes.
Not the sharpest tools in the box, these two.