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James Maguire, Superhero

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James stayed up that night, not being able to sleep. He held Erin close, her face buried in his neck, breathing raspy. He wanted to protect her from everything, and just shield her from her pain. It was evident he couldn’t, especially at night when she would be plagued with nightmares.

Erin began to thrash, her hands grasping for James.

“Wake up, love,” James whispered, shifting so he could grab her shoulders gently without startling her, but with enough force to awake her.

Then the painful sobs would come, followed by the shouts for help.

It made James feel physically ill.

“Erin. Wake up. It’s me, James. You’re safe. You’re here with me.”

After a few more whispers, her eyes opened, and she shuffled away from him like she did that night in the hospital.

“James! Where are you?” She yelled in the darkness, backing away from him at the same time.

“I’m here, Erin. I’m here. It’s me. It’s James.”

When she looked around a bit more and her eyes adjusted to the darkness that enveloped her, Erin broke down. He immediately got up from his spot where he was sitting to rush to her.

“James.” She sobbed, shaking her head, burying it in his right shoulder. “I’m sorry, I thought…” She paused to catch her breath. “They just feel so real.”

“Shhhh.” He drew circles on her back, then lifted her up and into bed again while she continued to sob.

A knock on the door was next, quietly followed by Michelle peeking her head in.

“Hey, Er Bear.”

Michelle shuffled over to the bed to where Erin was, her head hiding in her cousin's jumper.

Erin lifted her head wearily to meet Michelle’s eyes.

“You gave me quite the fright there. I had to make sure you were okay when I heard you.”

“Hi, ‘chelle.” She sniffed, taking her friend's hand.

Michelle gave her cousin a worried look, but he didn’t notice, as all of his attention was on his girlfriend, shivering in his arms.

“I’m going to grab yous another blanket.”

Michelle squeezed Erin’s hand, then slowly got up and grabbed a quilt from the closet.

“What time is it?” Erin softly whispered to him.

“Quarter after three.” He kissed her hair.

She lifted her head and sat up, feeling really ill.

“Do you want to talk about it?” James continued, running his thumb along her hip bone.

She swallowed, bile reaching her throat. She didn’t answer James’ question.

“Here.” Michelle handed her a glass of water and another blanket.

James wiped the tears off of her drained face. He barely made contact with her cheek before she ran up out of the room and into the toilet. James swiftly followed her, bending down and grabbing her hair.

Breathing heavily, Erin heaved over the toilet, her nightmare making her physically ill.

James’ rough hands rubbed her neck, slowly plaiting her hair out of her face and tying it off with a band as she breathed over the toilet.

“It’s okay, love. Just breathe.”

Erin whimpered, nodded, and reached back for him.

“Here.” Michelle came in swiftly with a pill and two glasses, one of mouth wash, and one of water. “Take this, Er.”

James grabbed it from his cousin to give to Erin, who didn’t even ask what the pill was. She took it, swirled the mouthwash in her mouth, and fell back against James.

“Gravol.” Michelle swiftly said, nodding at James, who brushed his fingers against Erin’s pale face. “It’ll settle your stomach and will also make you tired.

“Thank you, ‘chelle.”

“No problem,” Michelle said, taking her friend's hand, rubbing it swiftly, and then leaving the couple alone on the washroom floor.

“Shall we move back into the bed?” James says, playing with the end of her plait.

“Aye, I suppose so.”

Erin got up slowly, and never let go of James’ hand.

“Tell me about your dream,” James said when they were settled back in bed. He was lazily drawing shapes on her shoulder blade.

“I…I…” Erin turned her body to look at him. She found it easier to talk about hard things when something she loved so dearly was in front of her. “It was that day… where he had me against the wall. The knife. It was so close to ending me. I just…” She stopped and reached up to her neck.

Erin swallowed, feeling ill again, but knowing she had nothing left of her stomach to come up.

James sighed, softly brushing his fingers along her face. Her eyes shut out of pure exhaustion.

“I can’t get that day out of my head. I’m just so grateful for you.”

James brought her fingers to his lips. “I love you.” He whispered, holding her even closer.

“I love you more.”
•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
James and Erin both had no classes the next day, which was a Tuesday. She was very lucky because she had no interest in going anyways.

The morning came and James awoke first of the two of them, finding Erin curled up still at his side. He placed a kiss on her nose and reluctantly got out of bed, tiptoeing to the kitchen where he found Michelle making a cup of tea.

“How’s she feeling?” Michelle mumbled, dunking her tea bag in her cup, only to hand it over to her cousin to pour herself another one. “Here, you need it more than I do.”

James chuckled, gratefully taking the cup. “Thanks. She’s okay. She was up till 5.”

“And I’m assuming you didn’t sleep much after that?” She raised an eyebrow, nibbling on a scone that Orla had made last night.

James sighed, his fingers rubbing his forehead. He felt like breaking down.

“I’m so worried about her, Michelle. She’s not eating, not sleeping properly. She needs to talk to someone other than me. There’s only so much I can do.”

Michelle came around to the other side of the counter and sat on the stool beside him. She placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Listen. You’re a deal too good, Dickhead. We are all so grateful that Erin has you. She trusts and loves you the most, and without you… I don’t even want to know what would happen.”

He brushed a tear out of his eye before Michelle noticed, even though she saw, and he sighed again.

“Everything’s going to be okay.” She said, his eyes scanning her cousin.

James nodded. Coming from Michelle, that meant a lot.

Erin awoke about half an hour later, showered, and got dressed. James got up to use the washroom to get ready for the day, leaving her in the living room alone, when she heard a knock at the door.

'Oh, fuck'… she thought, retorting to what had happened last time.

“M…Michelle?” She whispered, tiptoeing her way into the girl's room. She felt like such a child, not being able to answer the door, but Erin just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Tap, Tap, Tap,

Again.

“Aye, what’s the matter?” Michelle said, getting up from her desk. She saw the panicked look on her friend's face.

Tap. Tap.

“Someone’s at the door.” Erin shrunk into James’ Cricket Team Jumper. She fiddled with the end of the string.

“I’ll get it. Just stay here, then.”

Michelle swiftly exited and reached the door to their flat, peeping through the eye hole and then unlocking it.

“Alright?” She said, raising an eyebrow. Michelle had no idea who this was. It was an older woman. She was tall and blonde, about forty years old.

“Hi there. I’m looking for Erin Quinn. I’m James Maguires and Her Literacy Professor.”

“Oh… um.” Michelle looked around, knowing James was showering and Erin definitely did not want to talk to this lady.

“Is she home? Is this the right Flat?” She said, smiling. Her friendly face was refreshing.

Just then, James emerged from the shower, his curly hair still slightly wet.

“Oh. Professor Henley. Nice to see you. What brings you here?”

The teachers usually didn’t visit student housing, so James was surprised to see his standing in his doorway.

“I was wondering if Erin was in and if I could talk to her. You know, only if she’s up to it.”

James cocked an eyebrow. “I… I can ask her. Why don’t you come in? Would you like a cup of tea?”

“No thank you.”

James nodded. “I’ll go talk to her.”

He slowly walked out of the kitchen to find Erin faced away from him, sitting on Michelle’s bed.

“Hey, love.”

She whipped her head around, panic in her eyes. “Who was at the door?” Erin asked, her eyes scanning James.

“It's Professor Henley.”

“What does she want?” Erin asked him
Worriedly, standing up to meet him. His hands met her face.

“She was wondering if she could talk to you.”

Erin cocked an eyebrow, the same way James did previously. Her gut jumped at the thought of being left alone.

Professor Henley was the sweetest teacher she had ever had in her life, much different to the blunt Sister Michael she’d grown up with in secondary school. Erin was curious to see why she was there.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t think anything, love. She’s waiting for you in the kitchen.”

Erin nodded, swallowing. She followed James out the door of the bedroom to see her professor sitting at the kitchen table.

“I’ll be in the other room if you need me.” He whispered, squeezing her hand. He didn’t meet her eyes, knowing that the broken look would make him feel guilty for leaving her alone.

“Hello, Professor Henley,” Erin said, lowering herself carefully onto the couch across from her teacher.

“How have you been, Erin?” She smiled sadly.

“Not too good.”

“I didn't know you were on the university cricket team.”

“What?” Erin said, confused, then realised she was referring to the jumper. “Oh… this isn’t mine.” She said, turning around to reveal the MAGUIRE written on the back. “It’s James’.” She breathed.

“I see.” She smiled. “You must be wondering why I’m here to see you.”

Erin swallowed, running her fingers over the friendship bracelet on her wrist. “A little, yeah. I’m sorry I haven’t attended your classes lately. I’ve tried but… I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

Professor Henley nodded sadly, then reached out her hand towards the young girl.

“I just wanted to check up on you. I wanted you to know that you’re being supported. I think it would benefit you to know that something similar happened to me in uni.”

Her head whipped up to meet her teacher. “You… too?”

“Yes. Not so severe as you, but I was… I was assaulted at a first-year party. “

“I’m sorry.”

Mrs Henley smiled. “I lost myself a bit too. I see myself in you.”

Erin sighed. She didn’t really talk to anyone other than James about this kind of stuff. She felt slightly uncomfortable but interested that someone else went through something similar to her.

“Did you… have nightmares?”

“I did. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t eat. Couldn’t do my school work.”

“Sounds familiar,” Erin mumbled. Her hair was still plaited in the same braid James did in the early hours of the morning.

“It gets better with time, kiddo. I just want you to know. And I’m here for you. But what helped me was getting back into a routine. I know it’s hard to start to take that first step, but you’ve got James with you.”

Erin nodded, a tear dripping off her nose. She knew Mrs. Henley was right.

“It’s just so difficult. I feel so tired. I tried to get to class with James yesterday but it went so badly. Word about my incident has spread and people won’t stop approaching me. I can't escape it.”

“Focus on yourself, Erin. These people just want something to gossip about. They’ll move on from it soon enough.”

Erin shook her head. “No… I don’t care about the fact that they’re talking about me. I just don’t like how they come up and remind me about what happened. I cant be by myself anywhere either, especially without James. It’s like I’m a wain again.”

“It’s ignorant, isn’t it, how people can be?” Professor Henley sighed. Erin just nodded in return, wiping her tears away.

“I feel like I’m not getting better. It’s been… it’s been a few weeks.”

“Healing isn’t linear. It’s going to take some time, Erin. Be patient.”

Erin nodded.

“Do you journal at all? From your work in my tutorial classes, it seems like you’re very artistically inclined.”

“I did every night before… but I’ve kind of lost motivation to do it.”

“Let me give you a tip, kiddo. Journaling, especially for people like us two who love writing, can be extremely healthy. It’s good to put your thoughts down. I recommend it.”

“I’ll… I’ll start again.”

Mrs Henley nodded, getting up. “Do that for me, and take care of yourself. Will you be in the evening class tomorrow?”

Erin gulped. “I… I plan on it.”

“Then I’ll see you tomorrow, poppet.”

“Thank you, professor. I really appreciate it.”

Mrs Henley took Erin’s hand. “If you need anything… just to talk, for advice… anything. You know where to find me?”

Erin nodded. “Aye, I do.”

“Good. I’ll see you tomorrow. And if you sit at the front I’ll keep an eye out for you. Stay with James and you’ll be grand.”

Erin nodded her head solemnly. “Thank you.”

She shut the door and lay her back against it, letting out the breath of anxiety she had felt in those short few minutes.

Erin went to find James. She locked the door, triple checked it and then tiptoed into their room.

“James?” She whispered, and she saw him seated at her desk, tapping his pen to his chin.

“Hey, love. How’d it go?” James said, whipping his body around in the wheely chair. Erin sat on the edge of the bed.

“Okay. She was…just checking in. I was so scared… but it went okay.” Erin smiled slightly, and James’ heart fluttered at the sight.

“Oh?” He questioned, scooting beside her on the bed.

“Aye. She was telling me something similar happened to her in her first year. She told me I reminded her of herself when she was my age.”

James rubbed her back as she disclosed to him what Mrs Henley had told her.

“I’m going to start journaling again too.”

“That’s my Erin.” He smiled, squeezing her. “I’m proud of you.”

“Are ye?” She smiled at him, looking up into his eyes.

“More than you know.” James breathed, kissing her nose. “More than you know.”