They should’ve known that it would come out eventually. And in a suitably chaotic fashion too, considering the track record of them and their friends.
It had all started not long after the president’s visit, when Erin’s heart had soared to new, impossible heights as he’d proudly declared that he was a Derry Girl, one of them, forever.
The feelings that they’d both truly started to notice when they’d been stirred up as he’d acted as her knight in shining armour on the night of the prom, finally came out in full, glorious colour that same evening.
They’d all slept over at Erin’s that night, celebrating his decision to stay well into the night. But both James and Erin had shifted uncomfortably in the huddle the group always tended to form on such occasions.
They were both tightly wrapped up in thoughts of each other. Whilst he was unable to scrub away the image of her heartbroken face when he’d told the girls he was leaving, she couldn’t stop thinking of how she couldn’t imagine her world without him, how she’d only truly realised in that moment that she didn’t want to hide how she felt any longer.
In their restlessness, they’d both untangled themselves and headed downstairs.
He’d greeted her with a shy “hey” and she’d waved back, both of them not wanting to say why they were really there.
But the second they looked up at each other, a conversation had passed between them. They’d shared a long, loaded look that said “this is real. And I feel the same way”.
The feelings that they’d pushed down for so long crackled and fizzed, golden sparks cascading across their chests until, finally, finally, they came crashing together.
Almost a month of warm looks, sneaking off to hurriedly snog in shadow slanted corners and holding hands under tables when the others weren’t looking later and they still hadn’t told them.
They hadn’t meant to turn it into a big secret, but first they’d wanted to figure out if this thing between them would last and then they’d been frightened that their friends would be upset that they’d kept it a secret. And that was without thinking of the reaction they could have to them becoming a couple in the first place.
Things had been going pretty well secret-wise, until this fateful morning on the bus home from school. Michelle had spent the entire day trying to persuade Erin to go out on a double date with a guy she fancied and his friend. And at this point, Erin was starting to run out of excuses.
“Come on Erin, he’s such a ride! And his friend’s ok too, why won’t you just help me out?”, Michelle now says, flopping back into her seat and sighing dramatically whilst stamping her foot in frustration.
“I’m just... I’m just not interested in seeing anyone at the moment”, Erin responds looking out of the bus window, trying to act as nonchalant as possible.
“Oh I assumed it would be because of you and James. Are you not together anymore?”, Orla says curiously, finally tuning into the conversation, having been preoccupied by her fingers all day.
At that, everyone snaps round. And stares. And stares.
Whilst Orla wonders what she said to make everyone pay attention, Clare is the first to speak after what feels like an eternity.
“Oh my god, oh my god, you guys are? You’re... oh my god”, she says with her head up against the bus window and her hand on her forehead.
“Calm down Clare, she’s just being Orla”, Michelle responds. “Like Erin would ever want to ride James”, she adds with a laugh.
Any chance that Erin and James have to respond (and any chance James has to defend himself against the last thing Michelle said), are swiftly disrupted by Orla dragging out something that Erin definitely didn’t know she had: Erin’s diary.
She reads it aloud in a casual tone, as if she isn’t revealing her friend’s biggest secret.
“This is different to John Paul or any of the others. This feels solid, real. He’s so kind and sweet and I love his curly hair and I get a whole army of butterflies flying around whenever he so much as holds my hand. And he’s such a good kisser too, I love it when he–“
With that, Erin swiftly grabs the diary back – but the damage has already been done.
“Christ, I think I’m gonna boke... you and James? Are you serious? Why?” Michelle says.
“Well Orla did just tell you why...” Erin responds. The look Michelle gives her in response tells her that that wasn’t the right thing to say.
Trying to calm the situation down, Clare pipes up again.
“I mean it’s a bit weird and I do have some concerns about what’s gonna happen if you break up, but I guess... if you’re really happy together then I’m happy for you”.
She smiles affectionately at them at the end of her mini speech, taking both their hands.
“Thank you Clare”, James says giving her hand a squeeze.
Michelle sits in silence for a while, as if she’s thinking long and hard about the revelations that had just come out. But then she speaks too.
“I mean it’s still fuckin’ weird, but if you really like each other then I’m happy for you I guess”, she finally says.
As they’re stepping off the bus, James stops Erin with a gentle touch.
“Did you really write all that stuff about me?”, he asks with the warm smile she’s grown to like (possibly even love) slowly for months now.
She backs away slightly, blushing before shyly confessing “yeah, yeah I did”.
He grins, then kisses her softly, not caring who’s watching (and entirely unaware that the others are trying to look away).