That night, Erin couldn’t fall asleep. Michelle was snoring across the room, and Erin’s mind was racing. She constantly had a lump in her throat and regardless of how exhausted her body was, her mind wasn’t.
When Erin’s eyes closed, all she could see was what happened that night.
She sat up, her head pounding and back bruised. Her shoulder was wrapped up in secret, and it had finally stopped bleeding.
She jumped at the sound of her voice being called.
“What the fuck are you doing up? It’s like six in the morning.”
Erin sighed, laying back down. “I’m just... not tired. I think I’ll get up now.”
Michelle groaned. “Go back to sleep.”
Erin huffed. Her head was pounding. She needed Tylenol.
She got up into the bathroom and lifted her shirt to see her shoulders and ribcage covered with bruises.
Her head pounded as if she had a hangover. She took a pain reliever and hopped in the shower.
It was only 6:00 am on a Saturday, and normally she would sleep in, but she just couldn’t.
She made herself a cup of tea and looked out the dark university street. The lampposts were still lit and there wasn’t a car in sight.
Erin turned the lamp on and decided to watch tv. She wanted to read, but she couldn’t do anything that required too much concentration.
Staring into the television, she thought about what was going to happen.
I’m never that weak girl. I’m always the one who takes problems by the reins and figures them out myself.
So why in God’s name can’t I decide what to do??!
She had two options. Tell her friends or stay with Will.
Her hands met her head and she groaned in frustration. Tears came to her eyes as she sobbed, completely and utterly exasperated.
Clare heard this and ended up tip-toeing into the living room to find her friend having a cack attack.
“Erin? What’s the matter?” She said, immediately walking to her friend and wrapping her in a hug, which caused her to wince in pain
This was it, she thought. I’m going to tell Clare and it’ll all be over.
“I think I failed my literature exam.” She ended up blurting out. Shit.
“Oh, Erin. Shhh, it’s alright. It’s just an exam.” Clare said, trying to calm her friend.
“I know.” She cried, but not for that reason. Erin could honestly care less about her exam.
“Why don’t I make breakfast? You seem to be exhausted.” Clare said, getting up from the couch.
“No, no. You go back to bed, Clare. It’s not even six-thirty.” Erin said, drying her eyes.
“That’s alright. I’ll make sausage and eggs. Are you...hungover? You never drink though. You seem like you’ve got a headache.” She said, noticing how Erin kept rubbing her forehead.
“No, no. I’m not hungover. I think it’s the lack of sleep. I’ll help you.” Erin said, getting up after Clare, refraining from wincing.
“Since we’ve got the time, let’s make enough for the others. Do you want to call Will later and invite him? I’m sure James’ll be around sometime this morning too.”
Erin froze at the mentioning of Will’s name. No way did she want him near her friends.
“No.” She answered quickly, which caused Clare to raise her eyebrows in confusion. “I just...I’ll see him later.”
Clare stared at Erin with a confused look, but nodded anyway, and went back to flipping the sausage.
“How is William, anyways? You haven’t said much about him in the last couple of days.”
Erin’s heart rate went up again, but she relaxed herself enough to answer the question. “Fine. We’ve just both been kinda busy with school.” She smiled.
“Yeah, I can tell you’ve been busy. Look- Erin. About the exam. They’ll be other opportunities to boost your mark, and I’m sure James would drop everything to help you study for the next one.”
Erin nodded. She knew he would. She couldn’t believe she didn’t see how kind and considerate he was.
Erin loved him.
But she couldn’t think about that right now. She didn’t have time to get all giddy when he smiled at her or helped her with her homework. She didn’t have time to imagine him as her boyfriend.
“I’m going to ask him for help today. I can’t believe it. I’m asking James for help.” Erin chuckled, trying to lighten the mood.
“I don’t think he’s doing anything today,” Clare said. Erin reached over and put the bread in the toaster.
Erin wanted to spend as much time as she could with her friends and as little time as she could with William. Although she didn’t want them to grow suspicious, she also didn’t want to be with Will.
Orla rolled out of bed moments later, greeting everyone. Erin offered to French braid her hair, as she did often in the mornings, so Orla sat while Erin plaited her curly hair into a French braid. Michelle was up as well, grumbling about how starving she was.
“It’s almost done, Michelle.” Clare laughed. Erin finished the braid off with a hair tie and smoothed it out.
“Erin, why in gods name were ye up so early?” Michelle said, sitting beside her at the counter.
“Just couldn’t sleep. I’m worried about my...exam.” She smiled.
Clare came over and wrapped her arms around the young girl, and Erin clenched her eyes.
“Everything’s sorted now.” Just then, James strolled in, a box in hand.
“Good morning, lovely people. Look what I got!” He said, slipping onto the stool beside Erin, flashing her a friendly smile.
“Danish pastries!” Orla said, reaching over Erin to take one.
“How’d everyone sleep after I polished them in Blackjacks?” He laughed, earning a scoff from Michelle.
“Bull shit. You wish.” She said, taking a pastry from the box.
“Fine,” Clare said. “Although Erin had a rough night.”
Erin shot her a glare. She always had to start the drama.
“Why’s that?” His face fell beside her, halfway through chewing his cherry-filled pastry.
“I’m worried about this god damn exam. Which reminds me, can you help me with the next test? It’s on Tuesday, right?”
James’ eyes studied her tired form. His heart broke for her. “Of course, Er. Wanna start today? I can run down and grab my books.”
Erin smiled. “Yeah, after breakfast. As long as you’re not busy.”
“Nope. I’m not doing anything today. Hence why I’m here with you guys.” He said sarcastically.
“Oh shut up. You love us.” Clare said. “Breakfast is done. Come grab what you want.”
Erin was not hungry at all, but she couldn’t just refrain from eating. Her pounding head was strong, but she knew Clare’s full breakfast always helped Michelle when she was feeling ill. She sat down with her friends and listened to them talk about their carefree lives, adding in a couple of words once in a while so they didn’t accuse her of being anti-social.
Clare had a date later that day, so she got ready for that, and Orla had to work teaching aerobics class to wains.
Michelle didn’t have anywhere to be until later, so she ended up flipping through channels on the television while James and Erin sat in the kitchen at the table.
The truth was that the content of what Erin was learning wasn’t hard. She didn’t even need help. On a regular day, she could study for an hour or two and be ready for the exam, but she just wanted to be around someone she was comfortable with for a bit.
“What did you miss on the exam?” He asked her, flipping through Erin’s textbook.
“Pretty much everything.” She mumbled. “I don’t think I got more than a twenty percent.”
“Really? That bad?”
Erin glared at him.
“Well, I thought you meant like a 70 when you said you ‘failed’. I thought you meant an ‘Erin fail’, not an actual failure.”
Erin covered her face in her hands. Her problem was eating at her mind.
James reached over and placed a hand on her shoulder to console her, scaring Erin out of her wits.
She jumped to her feet, and he pulled his hand away as if he’d caused her injury.
“I- Erin? Are you okay?”
Erin realized what she did. She knew he’d grow suspicious.
“I’m- I’m fine. Just jumpy.”
“I can see that.” He said, standing up to meet her. “Do you have a reason for that?”
Erin sighed. “I just haven’t been getting sleep.” She mumbled. I mean I’m not really lying to him, she thought. She hated lying to her friends.
“Erin, look at you. You’re exhausted. If this is about the Shakespeare course, you need to relax. It won’t even matter.”
“I know. I know.” She mumbled, sitting back down in the chair.
“Is...is there something else that’s bothering you? I feel like you’re not telling me everything that’s going on.”
He promised himself that he’d ask Erin if her erratic behaviour continued. It had been nearly a week and a half, and she was growing more fatigued and quiet over those few days.
Erin didn’t say anything.
“I’ve noticed a change in you. You haven’t.. you haven’t been yourself, Erin. You’ve been getting no sleep. You’ve been quiet, and you’ve failed your exam! There must be a reason behind you failing your exam.” He said, and when he reached out to touch her hand, she pulled it away.
“I- I don’t know. I just haven’t been sleeping well. I’m just stressed James.” She said. It was the only other excuse Erin could think of.
He stared at her hand, which she held cradled against her jumper.
“I...I feel like you’re lying to me.”
That’s when Erin felt guilty. She met his eyes, and her heart told her to confide him.
But then she remembered what Will had said to her.
“Erin. You tell anyone about this, I’ll do worse than hit you. You’re staying with me, or I’ll make your life a LIVING HELL!”
“I’m not lying to you, Jamie.” She whispered. She knew he could see right past her though.
“I know you better than that, Er. I know you don’t want to tell me. But you better bet I’m going to find out what’s bothering you. I’m worried.”
She smiled at him convincingly, adding a chuckle for good measure, but that ended when there was a swift knock at the door.
Michelle got up to get it, pissing and moaning about how no one ever left their god damn dorm room alone.
“Let's get back to the studying.” Erin smiled, and he nodded, trying to forget that suspicious feeling eating away at him
“Erin. Your man is here.” Michelle hollered.
James watched Erin tense and catch an eye with his.
“Erin, I think-“ James was interrupted by Will impolitely barging into the dining room to find James and Erin sitting at the table.
“What’s all this?” He said sassily, looking up and down at Erin.
“Well...you know how I failed my exam yesterday...” she trailed off, eyes looking at her book.
“What?” He said, acting surprised. James narrowed his eyes. He had to be pretty stupid to miss out on how upset his girlfriend was about her exam.
“Yeah... and James did well so he’s helping me study.” She said. She continued looking at her hands throughout the entirety of talking to him.
“Well, are you almost done?” He said.
“Well, no.. but I-“
Will glared at her, and James felt rather awkward in the situation.
“Er, if you have somewhere to be I can help you out another time.” He smiled. William shot him a dirty look.
“No, I’m not busy,” Erin said. “Will, why...do you need something from me?” Her voice was stuttering.
“Well, I thought we could go to my place. I’m cooking dinner.”
“It’s 12:30?” Michelle said from behind him, hand on her hip, chewing loudly on her gum.
He huffed and looked at Erin with anger, warning her not to argue like her mouth of a friend was.
“Lunch.” He corrected through his teeth.
Erin looked between James and Will, then Michelle.
She so badly wanted to stay.
“Come on, Erin. Don’t be a craic killer, like you say. You can study later.” Will said.
James picked up on the growing uncomfortableness of the girl beside him.
“You know, William. Erin was really struggling with her exam, maybe-“
Will shot him a look enough for James to close his mouth.
“Alright. Fine.” Erin huffed, closing her books. She just wanted to do what he wanted before things got ugly.
“Tomorrow?” Erin said to James regarding their revising session, lips pressed together in a firm line.
James nodded and took note of the way Will grabbed Erin’s hand rather aggressively.
When the door shut, he immediately turned to Michelle, who had the same look on her face.
“What the fuck is going on with him?” She said, pointing to the door.
“No idea,” James said. “But something about this entire situation is making my head spin. Erin was not okay before. She hasn’t been for a week and a bit. I tried asking her but she closed up again.”
Michelle sighed. “Aye, I do have to admit. This is weird. Maybe they’ve just fought or something? But that doesn’t explain-“
“No. There’s something more. And I’m going to find out what’s going on tonight.”
Michelle nodded, knowing he couldn’t change her mind.
At William’s place, Erin didn’t say one word until he spoke to her.
“You told him, didn’t you!? You told him!”
“Do you think James would’ve let me go with you if I told him, Will?” Erin said.
“Why were you with him?!”
“I told you.” She sighed. “Studying for the exam.”
“You love him, don’t you? Don’t you?!”
Erin didn’t say anything but just began to cry.
“Can you stop being so god damn fucking dramatic and answer my question?! Is that why you’re trying to leave me?”
Erin shook her head between sobs. “No-no! I love James because he treats me like how I deserve to be treated! I just want you to stop hurting me. Why have you changed so negatively?”
Will began to cry too, raging towards her. “You’re making me look like the bad guy.” He whined, aggressively wiping his face.
“Because you are!” She said, arms cradling her chest and turning her face away from him.
He leaped forward and grabbed her by her ponytail, causing her to yelp. She shivered when she felt his hot breath on her neck.
“You’re going to get it now.”