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  “I don’t like it, okay!?”

James’s outburst took everyone by surprise. His face flamed red as he began to shout in anger, spitting awful words about how terrible fried food was. Not that anyone expected anything less from a Brit.

  “It’s too greasy! It’s much, much too greasy!!”

Underneath all the yelling, there was a whimper. It went unheard by everyone, however, as all the attention was turned on James.

  “Even the smell of it makes me physically sick!!”


  “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Fionnula,” Michelle said. Then, in James’s ear, she hissed, “You’re a fucking embarrassment.”

  “Get him out of here!” Fionnula ordered.

In a muttering, awkward heap, the girls (and Brit) began to file out--

  “Oi!” Fionnula barked. “You forgot one!”

The gang stopped, turned around, and that’s when they finally noticed that Orla was on the floor, huddled in the corner between the wall and the counter, with her hands clamped firmly over her ears.

  “Orla, let’s go.” Michelle said.

Orla didn’t move, though. She just scrunched her eyes shut and curled her fingers into her hair. She looked like she was in pain.

  “Oh shit,” Erin muttered, then darted down to Orla’s side. She didn’t touch her cousin, rather let her hands hover over Orla’s lanky body, which she realized was wracked with trembles. “Orla. Orla, hey, it’s Erin.”

Orla pried one eye open, glanced at her, then slammed it shut again. A tiny whimper escaped her lips, and a piece of Erin’s heart broke off.

  “It’s okay, you’re okay,” Erin told her. “Can I touch you, Orla? Is that okay?”

Orla nodded, and Erin had her securely in her arms a moment later. Orla nuzzled against her, but kept her hands placed firmly over her ears. James yelling must have set her off.

  “It’s okay, it’s okay,” Erin murmured, stroking Orla’s unruly curls the way she knew her cousin liked. “Everything is okay… James startled you, didn’t he?”

Orla nodded wordlessly and buried her face against Erin’s chest. Due to her height, she was having to lean down, practically laying on Erin, but neither cousin seemed to mind the position.

Fionnula, however, did mind, and did not appreciate the scene that was going on in her restaurant.

  “What part of ‘get out’ don’t you understand?” The woman said impatiently.

  “Can you give us a minute?” Erin snapped. “It’s not the end of the goddamn world if we linger around for a moment! My little cousin is freaking out! Have some respect, will you!?” Then, in a quiet, soothing voice to Orla when she flinched and whimpered, “Shh, shh. Not you, Orla. I’m sorry for yelling. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Orla made a tiny noise in response. Erin tucked her head underneath her chin and held her closer, rocking her in slow, gentle motions.

  “You still like being rocked, right?” Erin asked quietly.

Orla nodded.

  “Wonderful. Just making sure.”

They remained there on the floor for awhile, ignoring all the stares and whispers they were receiving. Erin might have cared a little more if it weren’t her baby cousin in her arms. 

  “Are you okay?” Erin asked after a few minutes of silence. “Feeling any better?” Orla slowly uncurled herself from Erin, pulling her hands away from her ears. She looked tired and shaken, but slightly less traumatized.  

  “We can sit a while longer if you need,” Erin told her.

Orla shook her head and slowly stood up. She nearly toppled right over, but Erin leapt to her feet and steadied her.

  “Take it easy, love,” Erin said, and the pet name slipped out without her even thinking about it. “No need to rush.”

Orla looked at her, blinking her bleary golden brown eyes, then latched onto her hand. Erin stroked her knuckles gingerly as she led her out of the building.

To their credit, Michelle, Clare, and James waited a moment before bombarding the cousins with questions. Unfortunately, “a moment” seemed to be more like a millisecond because there were suddenly a barrage of comments spewing out of eager mouths. Erin gave her friends an evil warning glare when Orla whimpered in distress at their volume.

  “Sorry, sorry,” Clare apologized for her and the other two. “We’re just worried.”

  “You sound like you want to hear the latest news,” Erin said.

  “Can you blame us?” James said. “That was the most eventful thing to happen this week! What was that?”

Orla shifted uncomfortably. The discomfort on her face wasn’t an expression she usually wore, and when Michelle noticed it, she added for James, “He means you can tell us when you’re ready.”

  “Better.” Erin said. She squeezed Orla’s hand. “Maybe some other time, okay? I’m gonna get Orla home. She’s tired.”

Orla nodded and rested her chin on Erin’s head, letting her eyelids flutter shut. It wasn’t an act to get away from the questions, she genuinely looked exhausted- both mentally and physically.

There was a scattering of agreements from the other three before Erin began to walk Orla down the street.

  “Do you think Orla will be better by the time I steal that notice board from Fionnula’s shop?” 

Clare and James whip their heads around to Michelle.



Orla wasn’t sure what woke her up- her brain not wanting to stay asleep any longer or the buzz in her head. Probably both.

It took everything in Orla not to whine out loud when she realized that buzz was an oncoming migraine. Of course. 

She sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was in Erin’s bed, per usual (she never slept in her own bed) nestled in a burrow of blankets. Erin was still asleep, sprawled out on her back with her mouth open slightly. If that John guy saw her like this, snoring softly and drooling ever so slightly, he would probably run for the hills. Orla giggled softly at that image, and that small sound rebounded uncomfortably through her head.

Footsteps made Orla perk up a little. They were a little distant, but someone was definitely awake. After waiting a few minutes, Orla released her head from the grip her hands had on it and got up, too.

Simply walking down the short staircase was difficult with Orla’s increasingly intense headache. She stopped on the third step and had to take a deep breath before continuing on. Luckily, she got downstairs without any injury.

When she got to the bottom step, she saw the kitchen lights on and her Aunt Mary heating up a kettle on the stove. The woman looked surprised, but smiled warmly when she noticed the girl.

   “Good morning,” She said, “You’re up early.”

Orla waved and then shrugged, padding across the hardwood with her fluffy socks. She peered at the kettle curiously, like she was expecting a rose to sprout out from the lid. Mary studied her thoughtfully.

   “Do you have any preference for breakfast?” Mary asked.

Orla shook her head. She would eat anything. Although, right now, her head was pounding enough to make her lose her appetite.

   “Can I help?” Orla asked after a moment.

   “Of course!” Mary said, pleasantly surprised. “You can start the eggs.”

Orla nodded. Mary made friendly conversation with the girl as the two of them began to cook breakfast, though Orla wasn’t much of a talker. Even if she was, Orla’s migraine began to get worse and worse until she wasn’t able to pay attention at all anymore.

   “Orla? Orla!”

Orla reeled backwards, hissing in pain. She had no idea what Mary was yelling about until she noticed the egg in the pan was smoking. She ogled the pan with wide eyes, hands fumbling, and Mary had to turn off the burner for her.

  “Orla, what has gotten into you?” Mary said, looking at the girl. “Maybe you should sleep in some more?”

Orla shook her head and backed away. She lifted her hands and squeezed her skull between her palms, like she was trying to keep a headache at bay. Mary noticed, along with the fact that something was very wrong, so she helped the girl over to the couch so she could sit down.

  “Are you alright?” Mary asked, setting a hand on Orla’s back.

Orla shrugged. 

   “What’s wrong, honey?” Mary tried asking something else, keeping her voice low.

Orla hesitated, then gestured vaguely for her head.

  “Your head hurts?”

Orla nodded.

  “I see,” Mary frowned. She thought for a moment, then began to rub Orla’s head comfortingly.

Orla’s gaze snapped up at her with wide eyes. Mary quickly pulled her hand back.

  “Sorry.” Mary said. “I shouldn’t have assumed you wanted to be touched.”

Orla tapped the top of her head. Mary furrowed her eyebrows.

  “But I thought--”

Orla tapped more, so Mary put her hand back on her head, rubbing gently.

Orla pressed into the touch, closing her eyes in bliss. The pain from the headache began to melt away with each stroke over her skull, soothing her. She couldn’t help the content cooing noises she began to make.

Mary chuckled. “You like this, don’t you, sweetheart?”

Orla nodded. She keeled over into Mary’s lap and rolled over onto her back like a puppy seeking pets. She grabbed her aunt’s hand and placed it back on her head, even making rubbing motions like she was reminding her what to do. She sighed happily when the affection resumed.

  “So much for starting breakfast,” Mary chuckled lightly.


The ride back to the house wasn’t very fun for anyone: Michelle, who was trying very hard not to swerve off the road because she was a tiny bit tipsy (don’t drink and drive, kids!); Clare, who was simply still reeling from what had happened at Jenny Joyce’s party; James, who was moping because he missed the one chance he would ever get to lose his virginity; Erin, who was stewing in embarrassment after all her accusations; and Katya, who had to sit with all of them in the same cramped car. But most of all, Orla, who could feel her stomach roiling as Michelle swerved haphazardly down a turn in the street.

  “Erin,” Orla leaned forward to the passenger seat and tugged on her cousin’s sleeve with one hand, holding her stomach with the other. “I don’t feel good…” 

Erin snapped her head around to her. “I thought you said you could handle it.” She whispered as if this discussion was some type of super secret spy mission, although Orla did appreciate her not shouting it to the rooftops.

  “Mm-mmm,” Orla shook her head. She moved her hand from Erin’s sleeve to her stomach with the other.

Erin looked around at the dark road the car was speeding down. “Can’t you, like, hold it in?”

Orla swallowed thickly, trying to reign in her growing nausea, but could only shrug as an answer because she truly didn’t know.

  “She doesn’t need to piss, Erin,” Michelle said not-so-secretly. “She needs to boke. There is a huge difference.”

  “Yeah, one is not so easy to hold in,” Clare added.

  “Thank you for your addition, Clare,” Michelle said. “We all definitely did not already know that.”

  “If you vomit on me I will bust your nose in.” Katya said coldly to Orla, who shrunk away with a tiny whimper.

  “Why did you eat so much if you knew you were going to be sick?” James asked Orla.

  “It seems she always eat that much.” Katya observed. There was a hint of cruelty in her words as she smirked slightly and said, “Like a pig.”

  “Oi! Don’t call her that, you bitch!” Michelle snapped, jerking around to glare at Katya (and not paying attention to the road at all).

  “Watch what you say,” Erin hissed.

  “What?” Katya said innocently. “I only say truth.”

  “THE truth,” Erin corrected. “And it is not the truth! Just because Orla likes to eat doesn’t mean she’s a pig.”

  “Erin…” Orla moaned, hugging her stomach even tighter. A sudden rush of saliva filled her mouth.

  “Sounds like the definition of pig to me,” Katya said. She peered at Orla, apparently not noticing how pale she had gotten. “She even has chocolate still on her face. And shirt. And hands.”

  “That means nothing.” Erin said dismissively.

  “Erin…” Orla called out weakly again, but it still went unheard.

  “Oh really? So you are allowed to insult me and call me prostitute, but I cannot say a word about your pig of a cousin?” Katya said.

  “Stop calling her that!” Erin growled. “She’s not! You aren’t allowed to talk about my family that way, ESPECIALLY my little cousin!”

  “Erin!!” Orla wailed.

  “What?!” Erin whipped around to Orla.

And that’s when Orla threw up all over herself.

Naturally, the rest of the ride was driven in silence. Nobody really knew what else to say, so they all just stared forward as if one of them weren’t covered in her own vomit. They dealt with the smell by rolling down the windows and spoke nothing of it until Michelle parked outside the Quinn house.

  “Night,” Michelle muttered. Clare and James echoed her phrase as Erin got out of the passenger seat and Katya climbed over James to go out the other door. Orla almost crumpled right out of the car, but managed to catch herself. Vomit poured down her legs from where it had been congealing in her lap for the past seven minutes.

  “Erin,” She whimpered, staring teary-eyed at her cousin.

  “It’s okay, Orla,” Erin told her. “Just get it out.”

  “It really is not.” Katya said helpfully and Orla threw up again. Erin shot Katya a burning glare.

  “Will you shut the fuck up?” Erin snarled. She went to Orla’s side and held her hair out of the way, ignoring how her fingers grasped tightly onto bile and digested chocolate marshmallow-soaked locks. 

  “No, because you did not at party.” Katya said. “Why should I?”

  “Because my little cousin is SICK and you are just a BITCH, and so help me god I will STICK MY FIST so far up your ass that you will TASTE the coconut lotion I put on a few hours ago!!” Erin roared.

That was what got Erin’s family (and some old woman she vaguely recognized) to come storming out to see what the commotion was. And, boy, was it a sight. Michelle speeding off down the road before anything could be linked to her, a very pissed off Erin and Ukrainian, and Orla, who was covered in vomit.

  “What is going on here?!” Mary yelled.

  “I couldn’t handle it,” Orla gurgled, and then threw up again.


The gang arrived at the bus stop with Orla clinging to Erin’s hand like it was her lifeline. Orla had an expression of discomfort and uneasy on her face and she kept leaning down to bury her face against Erin’s hair like she was trying to hide. Something was wrong.

  “What’s up, fuckers?” Michelle greeted them. She had a wide smirk, but her eyes kept glancing over at Orla with obvious worry.

  “Nothing much,” Erin replied. “Orla’s going nonverbal today.”

Clare and Michelle nodded knowingly, sympathy suddenly oozing into their gazes. James blinked, looking slightly confused.

  “But she’s usually nonverbal?” The Brit said, then got elbowed in the ribs by Michelle. “Ow!! I was just asking!”

  “Shut the fuck up,” Michelle hissed lowly. She looked at Orla. “Ignore him, doll. He’s being stupid.”

  “Yeah, he didn’t mean it,” Clare added.

Orla nodded slightly. She buried her nose against Erin’s blonde locks and kept it there until the bus pulled up. When they all crowded inside the vehicle, she would shudder in an awful way when someone’s arm would brush against her side or back. She seemed uncomfortable when someone other than her cousin would touch her.

Orla curled against Erin when they sat down, sandwiched securely against her older cousin and the window. Erin eased her to completely lay down in the seat, her head resting in her lap, brown curls sprawled out all over her thighs. Erin rubbed her back comfortingly, humming softly to help soothe her further.

  “Is she okay?” James asked quietly when Orla had fallen asleep. Even with all the bumps on the road, the young girl didn’t wake up. 

  “She will be,” Erin answered. “I think it’s a burnout. So she’s pretty tired.”

  “What caused it?” Michelle asked.

  “I don’t know. Maybe nothing at all.” Erin sighed and combed her fingers through Orla’s hair. “Don’t give her a hard time today, please?”

The other three nodded.

The group soon fell silent for the rest of the bus ride, either staring out the window or watching the semi-peaceful face of the youngest in the gang. Erin’s hand never stopped stroking Orla’s hair for the entirety of the trip to school, and when they finally arrived, she was hesitant to wake her cousin up.

  “Hey, Ors,” Erin shook Orla’s shoulder gently. “Time to wake up.”

Orla’s eyes fluttered open. They looked darker than usual, weighed down by exhaustion and emotional fatigue. She blinked slowly at Erin.

  “We’re at school, lovely,” Michelle said. “Unfortunately.”

Orla nodded and sat up. Erin helped her out of the bus, squeezing her hand comfortingly, while Michelle, Clare, and James followed like protective guard dogs. They all walked into the main hall for announcements, and Orla was instantly set off by the closed space.

  “I know, Orla, I know,” Erin murmured when Orla whimpered in distress. “It’s going to be okay. It won’t last long.”

Orla stepped closer to Erin, practically pressed against her, but Erin didn’t seem to mind. She was more than happy to wrap her free arm securely around her little cousin to help her feel more protected.

Announcements soon began. Sister Michael’s voice boomed loudly through the microphone, causing poor Orla even more discomfort. Orla whimpered again and released Erin’s hand to cover her ears.

  “E-Erin…” Orla croaked. Her voice was tight and pitched with anxiety.

  “Breathe, Orla.” Erin instructed. “Breathe. It’s okay. It’s almost over.”

  “N-no--” Orla gasped. “It’s too loud-- Erin, it’s too loud--” She crumpled to her knees, keening a strange kind of distress call, and rocked back and forth.

Girls started to turn and stare at the spectacle. Sister Michael stopped talking and pursed her lips with a mixed expression of annoyance, confusion, curiosity, and concern. Erin lunged down to Orla’s side and clasped her hands over Orla’s own to further help muffle the noise. Orla collapsed against her, sobbing into her chest. The poor thing was shaking so badly.

  “Shh, shh,” Erin murmured. “It’s okay, Orla. I’ve got you. I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

Orla released her ears and clung tightly to Erin with her nails dug in. She was gasping and wheezing like she was having a panic attack, and she may as well have been with her symptoms. She kept whimpering and whining in elongated cries that cut Erin’s heart into tiny pieces. Erin held her tighter.

  “Try to focus on my heartbeat,” Erin instructed, pressing Orla’s head to her chest. “Can you hear that, Orla? It’s my heart. Use that to ground yourself. You’re going to be just fine.”

  “God, Erin,” Someone scoffed from nearby. Erin recognized it as Tina o’Connell. “Can’t you tame your retard?”

Michelle, James, and Clare froze in shock. Orla whimpered. Erin looked up slowly with an expression of murder in her eyes.

  “Michelle. Take Orla.” Erin said, not breaking eye contact with Tina. When Michelle swooped in and brought Orla into her arms, she stood up and then began undressing. First, her scarf. Then, her blazer, tie, necklace, and ponytail. And then she threw herself at Tina in a flying tackle, screeching like an enraged banshee and swinging her fists in a whirlwind.

Pandemonium instantly broke out inside the room. Girls began to shout, a large crowd formed, nuns and teachers rushed over, and Erin and Tina fought violently on the floor like a pair of pissed off cats. James, Clare, and Michelle watched with wide eyes and gaping mouths.

  “Your cousin is kicking ASS.” Michelle whispered to Orla. She began to tenderly stroke her hair like Erin had been doing. “You’re definitely gonna be okay, Ors. We’ve got you.”

It wasn’t long before Sister Michael broke through the crowd and ripped Tina and Erin apart with ease. Both girls were scratched up and Tina had a busted lip, but luckily there wasn’t much damage done. Unluckily for Erin, though, because she had wanted to beat that little bitch into a bloody pulp.

  “She came after me for no reason!” Tina exclaimed once they were all dragged into Sister Michael’s office. 

  “No reason?!” Erin barked a harsh laugh. “She called my cousin a--!!” She glanced at Orla hanging onto her and then lowered her sharp tone of voice. She leaned in to Sister Michael. “She called my little cousin a retard. Was I supposed to just stand there and let her get away with that? While Orla was having a sensory overload? It isn’t her fault she reacted that way!”

Sister Michael looked at Orla, who hasn’t looked up from the floor since they entered. Both of her hands are grasping onto Erin’s arms and she had her face pressed against Erin’s neck like she was trying to hide. Tear stains were still glistening on her cheeks from when she had been crying.

  “Is this true?” Sister Michael asked Tina.


  “Is this true?” Sister Michael repeated firmly.

Tina hissed underneath her breath and then grumbled, “Yes, Sister.”

  “You should be ashamed of yourself.” Sister Michael said. “Such language will not be tolerated in my school.”

  “But she and her friends say stuff like that all the time!” Tina cried.

  “They have never said such a disgraceful, disgusting, hurtful slur before.” Sister Michael said. “They may be hooligans out to drive me mad, but they aren’t savages. They know better. Unlike you.” 

Tina sputtered, but wasn’t able to come up with a good reply. Erin had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning.

  “A week suspension should give you enough time to think about what you’ve done,” Sister Michael said. “Now, out with you. Wait in the hall while I call your mother.”

Tina opened and closed her mouth several times, but wasn’t able to come up with something to say, so she stormed out in anger. Sister Michael waited a moment and then looked at the cousins. When she spoke, her voice was strangely soft.

  “Is she alright?” She asked.

Erin glanced at Orla, who didn’t glance back at her. She lifted a hand and cupped the side of Orla’s head protectively.

  “She will be,” Erin said. “The noise set her off. But she wasn’t having a good day to begin with.”

  “I see,” Sister Michael nodded. “Is she okay to go back to class or would she like to sit down for a while longer to recover?”

Erin looked at Orla again, who didn’t seem to be in any shape to learn anything.

  “I think we’ll wait a moment longer.”

Sister Michael nodded and gestured for the couch in her office. Erin guided Orla over to it and they both sat down.

  “Oh, and girls,” Sister Michael said. “If Orla is ever feeling unwell again, stop by my office. It’s quiet in here. She can stay until she calms down.”


When it came to her issues, Erin, believe it or not, was the most patient. Erin repeated over and over, made Orla look at her eyes or her mouth, asked Orla to repeat, to show her that she remembered.

It was strange. Erin was sometimes the one to lash out the most, although she had her reasons and they were very good ones.

A lioness waiting to pounce. That was what Erin reminded Orla of.

(Orla tried to get herself to stop comparing to animals, but that sort of failed because she was still doing it. As seen here.)

Regardless, Erin was smart in a way Orla wished she could be.

(She tried not to think about that. She tried not to think about people being better at things than she is. She knew how those thoughts caught like hooks in her fish-mouth brain and tug and tug and tug and tug until she broke the surface, struggling to breathe.)

Clare and Michelle are usually good. They love Orla enough to not snap at her when she loudly goes “Huh?” for the fifth time in a row. They dealt with her strange mannerisms and comments as if everyone acted like she did. They played along with her when her brain made her skin feel like it was too tight. Michelle let her mess with her hair and jewelry for hours and Clare simplified things that might have been too much to take in.

They’re good with that. Orla loved them so much.

(She loved them enough to let them be, to pull herself away, to shut herself away in herself as best she can when she finds-- when she realized she’s not--

When she saw the clench of Michelle’s jaw and the twitch of Clare’s nose and the way they glance at each other, and it’s never mean, it’s never intentional, it’s just…

Orla knows herself enough to know when she’s too much, and she loves them enough to spare them the discomfort of having to actually tell her she’s too much, to figure out how to explain that she’s overstepped, to put into words that they have limits.

People have limits. Orla tried not to push them. She does.)

James is still new, and he’s doing his best, he really is, but it’s the adults who are the least patient. Adults try, they always try. Orla liked that they tried. But adults get a pinch between their eyebrows after the third time they repeat an explanation, like they’re starting to wonder if Orla is just being a little shit. Adults are quick to get annoyed, or to fake annoyance, and sometimes Orla can’t tell the difference. Sometimes it feels like there is no difference.

Still, she dealt with it. She always did. Always oblivious, air headed, Orla who doesn’t know better, who doesn’t know what she’s saying, who doesn’t know how to act like a normal person.

She didn’t know where this was coming from or how to stop it. She couldn’t. It was impossible. Impossible to ignore it, impossible to block it out, impossible to disagree with the things it made her think about.

And she couldn’t take it, couldn’t take it, couldn’t take it--

Everything became too much. Orla was too overwhelmed. She felt like she was drowning, suffocating, burning.

She felt like she was dying.

Erin had had enough of all of this when she found Orla collapsed in her bedroom, keening in pain. She kept saying over and over again that the lights were too bright, distant noises were too loud, her clothes were too tight. She had somehow managed to claw open her shirt around the sleeves and stomach before she was in her current position. Curled up and biting herself.

Before Erin came rushing in, noises from outside in the house were all encompassing, rattling Orla’s skull, eardrums threatening to burst. She squeezed her eyes closed, covered her ears, rocked frantically with her head bent to her knees in an effort to block it all out. But no matter what she did, she can’t, and that’s it.

Tears sprang to her eyes, and she let out a loud, pained, keening noise as she cracked her head back hard against the wall behind her, digging it in firmly when she sank to the floor. She clawed at her shirt like fire ants were crawling all over her, desperately trying to get it off but it won’t, it won’t, it won’t. The material tears, eventually, but it doesn’t help.


Her head shook hard, side to side, side to side, repeat. She swore she can feel her brain trying to detach and fly out her nose. Her hands snapped to her scalp, pulling harshly on her hair and god-fucking-dammit, it’s still not enough. Her fingers left her hair with one last tug, loose strands of curly brown hair stuck between them, and balled into tight fists to strike down on the sides of her head. She pushed her feet firmly into the floor, thrashed and squirmed in the corner.

Nothing is enough nothing is enough why is this happening nothing is enough--

She slammed her feet down harder, dug the heels into the floor until her thighs ached. Then, she lifted one arm and clamped down hard and firm on her wrist with her teeth. Her other hand found her hair again, this time not tugging but holding it in a death grip and staying there.

She stayed like this, rocking and writhing and biting at her wrist with tears rolling down her cheeks, for what feels like forever. All she knew is she can still feel it- the lingering, bone-deep pain of the noises, eyes sore like she’s looked at the sun too long.

That’s when Erin rushed in. She had heard the commotion from downstairs.

The sight terrified Erin, to say the least. Watching her baby cousin spasm and sob and bite herself like a rabid dog made her blood run cold with fear. She snapped into action almost instantly, practically gaining wings due to her panic.

Orla didn’t register Erin as Erin. She didn’t even register her as a human being, just a presence she felt nearby. The touch she began to feel on her body, however, made her whimper in fright. First on her stomach, grazing lightly over scratches she knew she had carved in the flesh, then her head, where strands of hair had been pulled out, next her shoulder, over more angry red claw marks, and finally her wrist, with blood dripping down freckled skin. The hand was gentle with each prod, which was the only reason why Orla didn’t scream. She even relaxed into it a few times, almost cooing through her painful sobs.

But then fingers wrapped around her wrist and she bit down on them.

Erin hissed on pain, flinching backwards a little. She definitely hadn’t been expecting that.

   “Orla,” She said softly, despite the pain. “Orla, let go. Let go. It’s just me.” She felt like she was speaking to a dog rather than a human being.

Orla showed no sign of hearing her. Her eyes were glassy, blank, and glazed over, which terrified Erin even more. Her cousin looked more dead than alive at this point.

   “Orla,” Erin tried again. “Orla, babes, it’s me. It’s Erin. I need you to let go.”

Orla’s eyes flickered up a little for a moment before darting back down. Her entire body shuddered and she bit down harder for some kind of grounding. Erin had to grit her own teeth to keep from screaming as it felt like her fingers were about to detach from her hand.


She winced at the increasing pressure. The skin broke open and blood filled Orla’s mouth.

That’s what snapped her out of her trance.

The girl lurched backwards with enough force to make the wall rattle when her spine connected with it. Erin ripped her hand back and shook it in the air to try and ebb some of the pain. There were marks left on her fingers, scarlet at the center and purple all around them. She hissed, shaking her hand again.

Meanwhile, Orla looked to be completely out of it. Her head was lolling back and forth across the wall, Erin’s blood still wet on her lips. Her tongue instinctively flicked out and her entire face contorted into a grimace. She blinked once, twice, then saw the bruising already forming on her cousin’s hand.

Orla was guilty, to say the least. She would not stop apologizing for two days and couldn’t even look Erin in the eye out of shame for what she had done. Erin, however, constantly told her it wasn’t her fault and she wasn’t mad. But it didn’t make it better. Orla still felt horrible for hurting her cousin.

That’s all she seemed to do. Mess up. Because SHE was messed up.


While at the market getting groceries, Erin noticed Orla staring at something. She shimmied over with the heavy cart and realized it was some kind of toy in the window of a store. 

  “Like that?” Erin asked with a light chuckle.

Orla nodded. “It looks so soft…” 

Erin laughed.

Orla didn’t ask for the toy, rather just kept glancing back at it as they walked away. Erin watched her, and then a lightbulb lit up in her head.

  “Mammy, I need some money.” Erin told her mother when she got home.

  “Absolutely not.” Mary said instantly. “You already almost went over today.”

  “No, it’s not--” Erin looked around, then whispered, “It’s not for me, Mammy.”

  “Oh, is Michelle having you buy alcohol, now?”

  “It’s for Orla.”

Mary faltered. “Orla?”

  “Yes.” Erin nodded. “She hasn’t been well lately. I know you’ve seen it. And when we were at the market, she kept looking at this thing in one of the stores. I wanted to get it for her because it might cheer her up and--”

Some money was placed in Erin’s hands. Erin blinked in shock that that worked and looked up at her mother. Mary smiled.

  “Go get Orla’s thing.” Mary said.

Erin lit up. “Thank you, Mammy!!”

An hour later, Erin returned home from the market, barely able to suppress her giddy grin.

  “Orla!” She called. “Orla, where are you?”

Orla peeked out from the kitchen and Erin hurried over with her hands behind her back. 

  “I have something for you,” Erin said excitedly. 

Orla tilted her head and Erin held out the ostrich beanie baby. Orla’s eyes went wide, mouth opening in a quiet gasp. She tentatively grabbed the stuffed animal and turned it over like she was trying to make sure it was real, then held it close to her chest. 

  “Like it?” Erin smiled.

Orla nodded rapidly. Erin laughed.

  “I’m glad! I hope it’ll help, Ors. I know you’ve been a bit unwell lately. I just wanted to get you something so you’ll know you aren’t a burden or something. Because you aren’t.”

Orla’s eyes glistened, and then she sprung forward and hugged Erin tightly.

Maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.