Clare and Orla rummaged around Heathrow airport near the gate they were to meet the Quinn’s. The flight attendant at the desk announced the plane landing from Belfast was there, and as they watched the people piling out, Clare’s eyes landed on the couple, looking exhausted and desperate.
“Aunt Mary!” Orla yelled, getting up from her seat, Clare following.
The older couple immediately wrapped the two girls in a sigh of relief.
“How’s our girl?” Gerry said, pulling away to look at Clare.
“She’s...she’s being released from the hospital today,” Clare said. “Actually, I should ring the flat to see if they’re home. Excuse me.”
Clare walked over to the payphones and dialled their number, and a few rings later, a voice was on the other end.
“Michelle! It’s me- Clare. Are you back at the flat?”
“Well obviously- I’m phoning from there.”
“Right. What I meant to say, was-“
“Is Erin there? Yes, James just brought her back. She was discharged an hour or so ago.”
“Awesome. I’ve got Mary and Gerry, we’re just bringing them home, we’ll be twenty minutes. How’s she doing?”
“Fine. James’ is making her lunch. He’s such a sweetheart.”
“Wow, who knew you’d talk about your cousin like that.”
“Well, he’s been a huge help.”
“So have you, ‘chelle.” Clare paused and then noticed the Quinns walking over, obviously in a hurry to go. “Alright, we’ll be going. See you in twenty.”
Clare and Orla lead the Quinn’s to their car and made their way to Erin’s flat.
Meanwhile, James was making grilled cheese sandwiches in the kitchen, as Erin hadn’t touched a crumb of food since yesterday.
“Here you go, Er. Eat that. There’s soup in the fridge as well, I can heat that up “
“I’m not really that hungry.”
He rolled his eyes at the way she frowned on his cooking.
“Come on. You need to eat- you haven’t since yesterday. And besides, do you think your Ma will let you skip meals?”
She shrugged, knowing he was right and picked up a half of the sandwich.
“What, you didn’t make me one?” Michelle chuckled, sitting down beside Erin. Jame rolled his eyes and flipped the other sandwich in the pan, then flicked it onto the plate in front of Michelle.
“Why, thank you, Jamesy. You may be annoying, but you sure can cook.”
James just rolled his eyes and studied Erin, who was picking the corners of her grilled cheese sandwich.
“I just don’t feel well.”
James sighed, grabbing her hand. “Maybe you should’ve stayed in the hospital then?”
She shook her head. “I think I just need to lay down.”
He patted her small hand and watched her get up from the table and hobble to her room.
James stared at Michelle, who shrugged, then followed Erin, where she was sitting on the edge of her bed, facing away from him.
He slowly walked in to refrain from startling her, and when Erin felt the bed sink with his weight, she looked up to see him sitting beside her. Her eyes were glazed with tears, and he could see she looked as though she was suppressing her emotions.
James wrapped his arms gently around her and pulled her close, as she began to let go. Her sobs wracked her body, and his hands fell in her hair as he tried to console her the best he could.
“Erin, what’s the matter?”
She sniffled as she tried to catch her breath, soaking his t-shirt with her never-ending tears. She didn’t even look at him- Erin was absolutely mortified with her general state and embarrassed at the way she had completely let herself go.
“I can’t believe my mum and dad are coming. What are they going to say?”
He sighed, not knowing what to say. Even James knew that Mary especially, could be overwhelming, and although he’d never tell Erin, he was a bit worried as well. He didn’t want them to stress her out even more by hovering over her and possibly even forcing her back to Derry.
"Your mum and dad are just worried. They'll do all the worrying- you don't need to be upset. And listen, maybe going back to Derry..."
He paused when she lifted her head and glared at him. "Absolutely not. I'm not going back to Derry with them!"
"Maybe it's for the best?" He questioned, even though he knew it would be absolutely awful. Erin would be absolutely miserable. Still, he wanted to shed light on the situation in case it came up. He knew Erin would go mental at the mentioning of the mere thought.
"No. It's not for the best." She sniffed. "You know it, too. I'm not going to do something just because my parents want me to."
James nodded, respecting the wish of the weeping girl in his arms. Suddenly, without warning, the door flew open, and in the doorway stood Michelle, along with Gerry and Mary.
Erin shot her head up from James' chest to see her parents quietly walk over to her. There were tears in their own eyes as well, and Erin sat up to look at them.
"Hi, Mammy. Daddy."
"Oh, Erin," Mary said, sweeping her daughter into a massive hug. James could feel her tense up at the sudden overwhelming gesture, but he didn't say anything.
"Mammy, let go. I'm okay. Please." She said, slightly pushing her mother off of her.
"Are you okay? Why didn't you tell us?!" Gerry said, walking over to the bed. James got up from behind Erin and snuck around to the door where Michelle was. He thought it would be a good idea to leave the three of them alone for a bit to sort things out.
Erin caught his eye as Mary was rambling on, pawing at Erin's hair and her bruised wrists while tears fell out of the mother's cheeks.
James nodded at her, telling her he was leaving, and before he could let her say something to make him want to stay with her, he shut the bedroom door behind her.
"You can tell she's overwhelmed," Michelle said, who was standing on the other side of the door, tucked away so she could still hear their conversation. Orla and Clare were with her.
James nodded but looked at the three girls with hope. "It's her parents."
"It doesn't mean I'm not going to eavesdrop," Michelle whispered, leaning closer to the door.
Clare looked as though she was going to protest, but didn't budge or say anything. James was pining to know what they were going to say and was desperate to swoop in and argue with them the minute things got heated, especially if the subject of going back to Derry came up.
Meanwhile, inside the room, Gerry and Mary sat on the edge of the bed while their daughter re-explained everything that happened. Erin's heart was pounding, and she was so desperately afraid they'd shame her for the way that she had handled things.
"Oh, Love," Mary said, inching forward closer to her tearful daughter. "You don't ever have to be afraid to tell us anything. We're always here for you, and I know your friends are too."
Erin nodded. "I know, but you guys don't understand." She said. "At the moment, I was afraid for my life. If I told James, he'd kill me. He was...mental." She said, looking at her parents.
"What did he do? Did he beat you? Did he-"
"Mary, hush for a minute! Let the wain catch her breath." Gerry said, patting his daughter's hand. "You don't need to tell us anything until you're ready."
Mary and Gerry were both yearning for their daughter to open up to them, but Gerry knew especially that it wouldn't happen right away.
Erin sighed. "Thank you. And I just wanted to let you know that I'm not leaving London and going back to Derry with you. I thought I'd put that out there before you brought it up."
"Sweetheart, are you sure-"
"Ma, I'm safe here. I know I am. Besides, I'm not leaving my friends." She whispered. "Especially James. He's the one who's been the greatest support for me, and I don't think I could be without him.
James, on the other side of the door, was absolutely melting at Erin's words, but the anxiety of an argument starting on the other side trumped it.
Instead, Mary and Gerry looked at each other and nodded. "We want you to feel happy and safe, and if that's here with James, then alright. But you know you always have a place with us back home, right?"
Erin smiled through her tears. "I know, Mammy. Thank you, both of you, for understanding."
They smiled, and the two of them gently brought their daughter into a hug. "You never, ever have to be afraid of coming to us with your problems," Gerry said into her hair. "I know your Ma can be intimidating, but we will never-"
"I know, Da. I know. I love you guys."
"We love you too."