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James Maguire, Superhero

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LONDON, ENGLAND 1999

 

Erin Quinn was looking so hard for romance that she blinded herself from the fact that it was right in front of her. And now, she was in a situation where she wished she hadn’t been so desperate before. Finally alone in her dorm room, she grabbed her diary from under her bed, secretly hidden from Orla, and began to write.

I know how this goes, diary. I’ve read the novels. A young girls life is completely shattered when her boyfriend hits her. But here’s the thing. I think William is different. He was angry, and, well- I think I made him upset. And it wasn’t THAT hard. It hardly even hurt. Wasn’t even as bad as a wooden spoon.

I mean, he’s always been kind of mouthy...and a bit mean, but I thought that was just because he was joking. Kind of like Michelle does. 

But I can’t help but think it’s going to get worse. Nah.... I think I’m being over dramatic. I bet this whole pickle will blow over by tomorrow and everything will go back to normal.”

She absolutely couldn’t even believe it. Erin genuinely thought Will was her soulmate. He had always been caring. Sure, they’d only been dating for a couple of months, but Erin liked the idea of a new and exciting relationship in a new country.

Will had back handed her right across the face in the midst of one of their arguments. She sighed, recounting the awful moment.

“Erin! I cannot believe you! You’re honestly so fucking dramatic! I didn’t even-“

“You said my writing was silly. YOU said I’d get nowhere in life with my degree. How do you think that makes me feel!?” 

Erin was absolutely fuming, tears threatening to fall. No one ever dared to insult her passion for writing, and when it was someone who supposedly loved her, she knew that was way out of line. None of her friends would ever do it, so why would he?

“God. You’re so annoying! Honestly, you just need to shut the fuck up sometimes!”

Erin stopped, took a deep breath so she wouldn't lose her cool too much, and began raging towards him. “I am NOT annoying! I just have passion, something you clearl-“

That’s when it happened. A clean strike right across her cheek. It happened so fast that it caught her off guard. Erin’s hand flew up to her face and she stared at Will, wide eyed and breath heavy.

He just looked at her. “Fuck.” He mumbled, and when he took a step forward, Erin took one back.

“I’m sorry, Erin. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

She looked at him, her hand lowering, revealing a red mark that stung on her cheek.

“I’m so sorry, love. It just... happened.”

Will walked towards her, but Erin was so frozen in her place that she let him wrap her in a hug. She couldn't believe it. 

“Please forgive me. Please. It will never happen again.”

Erin, wanting it to be over, nodded. “It’s okay.” She mumbled. Her heart was beating a mile a minute and her head was pounding with questions and thoughts. What the hell had just happened?

And then he left, leaving her in her dorm alone. Michelle, Clare and Orla went out to the movies, and Erin was supposed to be studying for her Shakespearean course exam the next day. 

He left her, and a half an hour later was where she was now, writing in her diary, mind racing away as it usually was.

Only this time, she actually had a reason for her mind to race. 

Getting up to stare at her reflection, she saw the red welt. It barely hurt anymore, and she judged the seriousness of the situation by how much it had hurt her physically.

If it didn’t hurt that bad, then it’s not serious. She thought to herself.

She couldn’t place Will’s boyfriend worth on if he 'accidentally' hit her tonight. She was acting silly. Erin decided that everything would go back to normal tomorrow. They’d forget about it.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a quick knock on the door. Legs still shaking slightly in surprise, she walked swiftly to answer it.

“Oh. Hiya, James.”

“Hey. You forgot your textbook in the library. I thought I’d drop it off.” He said, walking in and taking his shoes off, making himself at home.

James was one of Erin’s best friends, and quite frankly, Will had always been jealous of the relationship they had. William would grow insecure when Erin would laugh at James’ jokes, or hug him goodbye after a group hangout. He’d pester her after about it, but Erin never considered it a problem. 

“Thanks, James. You can leave it on the counter.”

He nodded, then squinted. “What happened to your face, Er?”

She paused. Her cheek. Her thoughts and racing mind was causing her to forget that her cheek still in fact stung.

“Oh, allergic reaction to something. I think it’s this face cream Michelle uses. I tried it and it kind of made my cheek itchy.” She said, raising her hand. Thank God for a creative mind.

“Oh. You should definitely put some Benadryl on that. I have some back in my flat if you need it.” He smiled.

“No, it’s alright. I’ve got some here. I should get back to studying. You ready for the exam?”

He laughed. They both landed in the same Shakespearean course. James was in a teaching undergraduate program, and therefore, had to take an English credit. He enjoyed reading Romeo and Juliet in school, so when Erin suggested that they should take this course together, he obviously obliged.

“Yeah, I think so. Wanna meet at the coffee shop before? Then we can walk to class, get a good seat?”

She paused, thinking about Will. Anything could set him off to be cross with her again.

“Actually, I’d better meet you there. Wanna get as much studying as I can done. But thanks for the offer.” She smiled politely.

He nodded, being happy-go-lucky as usual. James was so care free that he didn’t mind if Erin wanted to do her own thing.

“Suit yourself. I can grab you a coffee if you want though.”

She laughed. He was too kind. “It’s alright, Jamie. You go on, get studying. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He nodded, then motioned to her cheek. “Benadryl.” He reminded her.

Erin chuckled, rolling her eyes. “Bye, James.”

 

After shutting the door, Erin went to hide her diary once more. Shoving in a box with old notebooks and socks, she made it extra concealed.

She wrote everything down as a method of counselling to herself. Erin was comforted by writing, and she liked having all of her thoughts in one place.

Once her diary was well hidden, Erin hopped in the shower, letting the cool water sooth the hot, stinging welt that was developing. She knew it would stand out against her pasty skin, therefore, she would use her allergic reaction excuse if it wasn’t enough for makeup to cover.

After scrubbing, she hopped out of the shower. And just as she was doing so, the three girls barged in, going on and on about the movie they saw.

“My lord, Erin. You should’ve came with us. The movie was fucking amazing!”

“That’s good.” Erin said, still wrapped in her towel.

“Aye.” Orla said. “It was called ‘10 Things I Hate About You’. But in all honesty, I can’t find anything I hated about the movie.” 

“It was class, I do have to admit. Loved the ending.” Clare said. “Really loved it.”

Erin nodded, more quiet than usual, which of course, Michelle caught on to immediately.

“What the fucks your problem? And why do you have a breakout across your cheek? You look like a thirteen year old going through puberty.”

Erin scoffed, hand flying up to her cheek. “It’s not a pimple, Michelle. It’s an allergic reaction.” She lied. “And it’s from that lotion stuff.”

Clare raised an eyebrow. “What lotion stuff?”

Erin shrugged. “I dunno. Whatever was in the washroom. But I took Benadryl. James was by and he told me to.” 

Another lie, right through her teeth. Maybe she should be an actress.

“Let me take a look.” Clare said. She was in school to be a nurse, so she automatically felt the need take a look at what was troubling Erin. 

“I mean... being in my second year of nursing I can tell you it doesn’t look like your regular reaction.” Clare said. “But it looks like it’ll go away soon.”

Erin swatted her hand away before Clare could grow too suspicious. “It’s fine. It’s just a bit itchy. Now if you don’t mind, I need to finish studying.”

She marched back into her room. Erin honestly didn’t even feel like studying anymore. She had other things to worry about. She ended up packing her books away, getting her pyjamas on, and getting an early night. 

 

The next morning, Erin got dressed and headed towards her class down the street. She got there a bit early, so she grabbed a spot and studied for a bit.

Soon enough, other people started piling in, chatting, as if they had no worries. Erin had many things to worry about. Not only was she going to bomb this test due to the lack of revising, but the incident with Will still hadn’t left her mind. She found herself growing afraid of what was going to happen next time she saw him.

“Morning, Er? You ready!?”

Erin jumped at the sound of James’ voice greeting her. 

“You okay? Why’re you so jumpy?”

Erin nodded, catching her breath as he sat in the desk beside her. “Yeah, I’m good. I just don’t think I’m going to do very well on this test.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll do fine. You’re amazing at literature!”

“Glad you think so.” She mumbled, James obviously not hearing her. She began throwing her hair into a knot on the top of her head.

“I brought you a tea. Since you didn’t come with me to the cafe I thought I’d bring one for you.” He smiled, and Erin wanted to cry out of happiness. Just what she needed, an act of kindness.

“Oh, that’s pure class. Thank you so much, Jamie.” She smiled as he handed it to her.

“No problem.”

Soon enough, the professor came in and ordered them to put their books away. 

As soon as he handed Erin her blank test, she couldn’t concentrate. Her mind was elsewhere. She found her heart beating fast, and she couldn’t even understand  the questions.

James seemed to be flying through it. Erin turned back to her sheet and tried to write down as much as she could remember, but when the time was up, she knew she bombed it.

“How do you think you did?” James said as they walked back to their flat building.

“I’m toast. I barely wrote anything down.”

“What?” James said, confused. “That’s so unlike you. Usually you barely have enough time to get your thoughts down.” He laughed.

Erin shrugged. “I don’t know what happened.”

James stopped on the sidewalk. “Are you okay?”

She gulped. “Why do you ask? I’m fine.” Erin smiled. “I think I’m just a bit burnt out from all the revising, especially if it was for nothing.”

He nodded. 

Suddenly, Erin caught eye of someone walking down the street, and when she realized it was William, she gulped. 

Act normal. Like actually normal.

“Hello love.” He said, kissing her cheek. “James.”

James nodded at William. He wasn’t fond of the lad, mostly because he was a bit jealous, but he’d never show it. He tried to be good friends with him if it would make Erin happy. He barely knew him, and had only hung out with him a couple of times.

“Hey, Will.” Erin smiled. Her heart was going a mile a minute.

“I’m gonna steal my girl from you, James.”

James laughed awkwardly. “Go for it. Bye Will. Bye Erin. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As Erin was dragged away, James felt slightly guilty, like there was something prying at his gut. But he shook it off, knowing it was probably just wrong instinct.

He went upstairs to find the other girls, who had no classes that day. And when he questioned them about it, they didn’t seem to concerned.

“Do you guys like William?”

They looked at him nonchalantly. Clare and Orla were making muffins, where Michelle was painting her nails.

“Yeah. I don’t see anything wrong with him. I mean, we barely know him though.” Clare said.

“Aye. Anyone who can put up with Erin has my respect.” Michelle said, obviously joking,  then looked up at him. “Why do you ask?”

James shrugged. “No reason. I just don't really know him well. He kind of gives me weird vibes.”

“Well, he's English.” Orla said. 

“So am I?” James raised an eyebrow at Orla, who licked the muffin batter off the spoon

“But you’re English with a splash of Derry Girl.” Clare laughed. 

James nodded, but thought back to Erin. She never felt like she was going to fail a literature test. Something was going on. Probably something really minor, but still. He’d ask Erin about it if her strange behaviour continued on. 

Until then, he decided he wasn’t going to pester. 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“I think I’d really just like to head home.”

That was the third time Erin had vocalized her desire to go back to her flat, one that Will didn’t catch onto. 

Or he did, he just didn’t listen to her.

He took her to the neighbourhood pub for a pint, something they often did. Erin didn’t usually drink more than one beer, but William always had two. This time, he had three.

“Oh come on, Erin. Don’t be a craic killer. Isn’t that what you Irish people say?” He laughed.

“I’m not a craic killer.” She whispered.

After the bar, he walked her home, and Will could sense the apprehensiveness of his girlfriend.

“What’s going on with you, Erin? You’ve been quiet all night. Am I not fun anymore?” He guilted her.

When she didn’t reply, he grabbed her arm rather aggressively, and she jumped.

“Im fine. Let go of me.” She spat rather angrily, trying to hide the fear in her. Why was he acting like this?

“I’m not letting go until you tell me what’s wrong!” Will said, raising his voice. The longer Erin stayed silent, the harder he squeezed her wrist.

“I just want to know, actually, what’s going on with you? You slapped me yesterday. And now you're squeezing my wrist as if it’s a-“

“Well it’s because you’re being disrespectful to me!” He said.

“I-“

Erin paused for a minute. Did she really want to argue with him? She wanted to win the argument, of course, but she really didn’t want to get hurt

“I’m sorry.” She frowned, eyes falling to the floor.

That’s when she realized that this relationship was toxic. The way her powerful, feminist views tumbled out of her mind. The way they were not important to her anymore when the fear of getting hurt was greater was dangerous. That's a problem.

Her wrist still tingling from where she was grabbed, she rubbed it with her other arm. Will saw this, but didn’t say anything this time.

Erin knew she was digging herself in a deeper hole . She knew Will’s promises of not hurting her were irrelevant, and especially with a few pints of beer in him.

“I think I should be heading home.” She said.

“Why?” He asked, suddenly stopping, frowning. “Aren’t you coming round mine? You know...” he smirked.

Erin gulped and shook her head. “No. It’s getting late. I just-“

“You just what?! It’s only 10:00. And we don’t even have class tomorrow. It’s a Saturday.”

Erin so badly wanted to say no. She’d never felt so pressured to say yes. But she was afraid.

“I-“

Erin ended up sighing, and wordlessly following him, instead of turning right to walk to her dorm building.

What have I become?

He didn’t love her. She knew that now. He loved her body. He loved how she made him feel physically. But he didn’t love her personality, or her wits, or her intelligence. He constantly berated her for her love of literature. Why did she stay with him?

And after it was done, she didn’t feel at peace. She didn’t feel happy.

Erin honestly felt taken advantage of. She felt pressured.

Even if it was her boyfriend. Having sex with him made her feel worse. And she knew that was not okay.

She swiftly got dressed. 

“Where are you going. You don’t want to stay the night?” He said, shifting in bed.

“No. I’m going to head home.”

“What, am I not good enough-“

“It’s not that, Will. I just need to be getting home.” Erin’s voice almost broke.

“What?” He scoffed. “To see that James fella?”

Erin paused after pulling her jumper on. He never had accused her of cheating on him before.

“What?”

She knew it was probably the beer, but that didn’t matter. He was still acting crazy.

He shrugged. “Well, why are you in such a rush to get home?”

“Because, William. It’s late. I had an exam today. I’m tired. Can’t you just let it go? It seems like we’ve been fighting more than getting along. I just need to go home and rest.”

He scoffed, rubbing his chin. Erin could tell he was angry, and that sick feeling in her stomach came back.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” She said, grabbing her bag and quickly heading out the door before he could say or do anything to her.

Erin quickly ran down the hallway and into the stairwell, and once she was out of view, she completely broke down.

What the fuck is wrong with me? 

She honestly just wanted to go home and shower. She felt dirty.

Drying her tears, she left his building and walked the few metres to her flat building, allowing herself to calm down and get herself together in that amount of time.

She could never tell anyone this was going on. Erin was too prideful, and she was way too embarrassed. For now, at least, until she ended things with Will, she’d keep her feelings on the down low.

“Hey Erin!” They said when she walked in her dorm room. James, Orla, Michelle and Clare were gathered around the kitchen table with drinks playing a round of Blackjack.

“Want us to deal you in?” Orla howled.

Erin slowly waved at her friends. “Alright. Let me just shower first.”

She took off her shoes and with her head down, headed for her room to get a change of clothes. Wordlessly making her way to the bathroom, she shut the door behind her.

“What’s her problem?” Michelle spat, placing a card down, causing everyone to groan at her high score.

“I don’t know. But she’s been quiet all day today, and yesterday too.” James said. 

“Aye, you know how emotional Erin can get. She’s probably just tired after her exam.”

“Yeah, and the fact that she’s sure she failed it.” James added solemnly.

“What?” Clare said to James, looking up from her cards. “Erin? Failing a Literature exam?”

James shrugged.  “That’s what she said.”

Michelle shrugged. “Probably because she spending too much time with that Will fella.”

Clare chuckled. “Maybe.”

James sighed. He’d get to the bottom of this. Even though the others weren’t too worried about Erin’s shift in demeanour, it didn’t mean he didn’t have to be.

 

Meanwhile, when Erin was in the bath, she’d scrubbed her body so hard to get the dirty feeling off her. Letting the water stream down her sore body, she let tears slowly fall again after holding them in when she reached her dorm flat.

She got out and stared at her cheek in the mirror which was still red. Her wrist was taking on a similar manner. Erin rotated it, feeling sore and stiff.

She put on her joggers and tee shirt, and after towel drying her hair, she made her way into the kitchen.

Erin took a seat wordlessly beside her cousin and across from James, who smiled at her. The corner of her mouth lifted slightly, but before he could say anything, Clare and Orla yelled in defeat, slamming their cards down.

This caused Erin to jump in surprise, nearly knocking over James’ beer glass.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Erin huffed. 

James observed her as she jumped in fear. He touched his foot to hers under the table and raised his eyebrows.

Erin just smiled, convincing him she was alright. “You guys going to deal me in, or what?”

“Are you sure you wanna play? Michelle keeps stealing our money.” Orla said.

“Orla, it’s not even real money. They are...they're poker chips.” Clare said. 

“I think they’re even more valuable.” She said, crossing her arms.

Erin chuckled, realising how much happier she was around her friends.

She needed to find a way to end her relationship with Will. If that happened, then the anxiety she was feeling would go away.

Erin just needed to figure out how to do it.

 

Over the next week, Erin developed a plan. She had to let him know that this relationship had sailed it’s course, and she wasn’t happy anymore.

So when he rang her and asked her if she wanted to come over for a movie, she agreed, and Erin also told him that she needed to talk to him about something important.

Gathering up courage, she walked to his dorm room on a Saturday, breath shaking and heart racing.

Erin paused before knocking on his door, but realized she needed to do this.

“Hello, Erin.” He smiled.

“Hey, Will.”

“Wanna drink?” He said, offering her a beer. She shook her head, and her heart rate went up even more when she realized more empty bottles on the table.

Will was a lightweight. He never could handle more than three beers. And he wasn’t a happy, funny drunk either. She found that out the hard way.

Erin badly wanted to wait for a better time, but she realized that she couldn't wait any longer.

“Look, I need to talk to you about something.” She said as he grabbed her hand, pulling her to the couch. His hands began roaming around her body, and she was growing extremely uncomfortable and nervous.

She could smell the beer on his breath, which she could feel creeping up on her neck.

Erin tried pulling away. “Will, listen to me.” She said, squirming from his touch.

“You can tell me after.” He groaned.

“No.” She said firmly. “Let go. It’s really important. You’re making me uncomfortable.”

“Just-“

“Will! I can’t do this anymore. You’re not treating me the same as you use to. I think... I think this relationship has burnt out.” Her voice trailed off.

“What?!” He spat, standing up from the couch. Erin’s instincts caused her to back away when he picked up the beer bottle from the table beside the couch.

“Will. I’m not happy anymore. And you’ve been drinking a lot. We’re clearly both not happy, and I think-“

He swiftly walked toward her, pushing her up against the wall.

“You’ve been seeing James, haven’t you?”

Erin paused at the thought of James. He never failed to treat her with respect and love, but that was a thought for another time. “No. That’s not the reason I’m breaking up with you, William. Look at you! How could I want to stay with you?!”

His hands pushed her shoulders against the wall, and her body slammed on the cobblestone behind her.

“Let me go!”

“What did you say to me? Are you breaking up with me?”

She gulped. “Yes. I am.”

His grip grew harder on her shoulders and he pulled her forward, only to slam her against the wall again. Her back and head ached in agony, and she yelped in pain.

“You can’t leave me!”

“But you’re hurting me, William! Look at you! This isn’t you!” She cried. Tears were falling from the pain she was feeling, as well as the fear of what was coming next.

“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!”

In that moment the beer bottle was thrown, smashed beside her head, the glass slicing her bare shoulder and falling around her. It wasn't deep, but she began to bleed.

What have I done?  She thought. Now she couldn’t escape. He was threatening her, and Erin didn’t dare to go against that threat.

She pushed him backwards so he fell on the floor and ran, trying so hard to get away. She grabbed her shoes and didn’t even bother to put them on, but that movement of reaching down to grab them allowed him to catch up with her, and he grabbed her wrist and pulled her to the ground.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He said. She was now on the floor, and he was on top of her, straddling her so she couldn’t escape his grip.

“Please, William! Just let me go home! I promise I’ll stay with you.” She cried. “Just stop hurting me! You’re hurting me!”

Her pleads did absolutely nothing, and he ended up slapping her in the face again.

 

And for the rest of the night, she sat silently in his flat until she finally was allowed to go home, only because he knew that her friends would grown suspicious.

“Remember, Erin. If you tell anyone about this...”

Erin breathed. “I won’t.”

She tied her boots up and walked home, body aching like she’d been hit by a train. 

She so badly wanted to confide in her friends. But nothing would happen. Will still went to the same university as them. He’d still see her in public.

 

It just wouldn’t be safe.

Chapter Text

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.

“Erin?”

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.”

Chapter Text

James had no plan.

But fifteen minutes after Erin left her dorm room, pacing back and forth, he decided he needed to go after her.

Even if he were completely wrong about his instincts. She’s uncomfortable about Will, he thought. He didn’t know in what aspect, which made him even sicker to the stomach.

Michelle left moments later after not suspecting anything. She had a shift at the cafe she worked at.

Should I go after them? He thought to himself. That gut feeling was pining at him again, and wouldn’t leave him alone. James knew something was seriously wrong.

He felt like something was wrong regarding Will. He also knew it was a pretty big assumption to make. There was a big chance he was wrong.

But what if I’m right... His thoughts were infesting his mind. His paranoia wouldn’t leave him alone until he knew Erin was alright.

James swiftly got his shoes on and took off down the hall. It hadn’t even been half an hour since she left.

James ran up to Will’s dorm building and paused in the stairwell, thinking of what he was going to say.

He already decided he had to make some sort of excuse for her to leave with him. It needed to be believable, and it needed to get Erin to leave, no questions asked. James wanted to try his best to avoid confrontation with Will.

He finally decided what to say, so he took one step forward and knocked swiftly on his door.

Will had a room by himself at the end of the hall. He knew it would be just them there.

The door opened aggressively, and James snapped into character.

“What the fuck do you want?!” Will said, looking at James, standing in front of him, blocking the view. He could see Erin slightly on the inside.

“James?” Erin said from behind him. Will turned around swiftly and she was quiet again.

“I need Erin. Right now. It’s an emergency!” James said.

“What!?” Will spat.

“It’s Orla. She’s been poisoned. She’s in an ambulance right now, Michelle went with her. We’re to meet her at the hospital!"

He heard Erin shift in the background. “What?” She said, coming forward. She had a bloodied tissue to her nose, pinching the bridge.

“Poisoned! She ingested chemicals!” James said, his heart trying not to get in the way of his actions when he saw her bloody nose. “She’s very sick. We need to go. Right now.”

“You can’t leave, Erin.” He grabbed her wrist on the way out.

“No. She has to!” James said, swiping his hand from her wrist. “Orla...she’s really sick." He repeated himself to emphasize the importance. "Erin will call you later.”

“I promise I’ll call you later,” Erin said to Will. James steered her down the hall and the stairwell.

“James? What’s going on?” Erin said, worry in her voice. She was still holding the tissue to her nose to stop the flow of blood. One more thing she needed to be worried about.

“Did she think the toilet cleaner was grape juice again?” Erin said, voice breaking. “Seriously, James. Is she going to die? What’s happening?!”

James looked at her confused as she implied that that had happened before, but realised it wasn't important.

“Why is your nose bleeding?” James said, grabbing her hand to guide her, which she jumped back from.

“I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about-“

He unlocked the door to her dorm. He always had a key. “Orla’s not poisoned. She’s completely fine. She’s still at work.” He said.

“What?” Erin said.

“I came to get you.” James sighed. “Now answer, please. Why in God’s name is your nose bleeding?”.

“So Orla is okay?” Erin said, sighing, breaking down into tears.

“Completely fine. Why is your nose bleeding, Erin? Answer, please!” James said, slightly louder.

“I-“

Erin couldn’t explain. She had no excuse. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but James took the words right out of her mouth.

“Did he....”

Erin opened her eyes to see James stepping forward, brushing her hair back to expose the fresh marks on the back of her neck. The ones she didn’t have time to cover up.

“Did Will do this to you?” He said louder.

Erin didn’t have to say anything. She just jumped at the change of his voice.

“I’m going to kill him,” James muttered. He didn’t even know what to say to her.

Erin began to sob, her face falling into her hands, becoming an absolute bloody mess. James both came forward to envelop her in a hug.

“I-I couldn’t tell you.” She said. “He threatened to- “

“I’m calling the police,” James said. He was visibly crying, eyes wet. “I'm going to actually fucking kill him.”

“Stop!” Erin yelled. “You don’t understand, James. He’s crazy! He’s mad. He’ll do worse.”

Erin sat down on the couch, closing her eyes in pain.

“Where else have you got these bruises?” James mumbled, sitting beside her, taking her hand. He rubbed his thumb along her wrist when she pulled her jumper up.

“Erin...”

He leaned forward and hugged her again. “I’m so sorry. I'm sorry I didn’t do anything. I suspected something was going on, but it definitely wasn’t this.” He cried.

“I’m so scared, James. I’ve never been more scared in my life.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you lie?” He whispered into her ear as she sobbed.

“Because he threatened to do more than hit me.” She whispered.

“What happened? I-“

James looked as he was going to be sick, and he let go of her to pace the floor. “I’m going to call the girls.”

“No, don’t ruin their night!” Erin sniffed.

“I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“What? No!”

“Erin. I don’t have to be an idiot to know you’ve got bruises all over your body.”

“James, no! I’m not going to the hospital.”

“Erin!” He yelled. “You are a victim of assault! You could have... internal damage!”

She jumped back at his raised voice, even though she knew James would never EVER hurt her.

“I’m sorry, I just...” he sighed. “I’m so worried you have no idea.”

Erin just shook her head. “I can’t believe I stayed with him for so long.”

“How long has he been treating you like this?” He said, bringing a hand up to her cheek.

“A couple of weeks. It really started getting bad a couple of days ago. I don’t know what got into him. He-“

“You’ve been hurt for a couple of weeks?”

James’ face fell from her cheek, down to her shoulder, where she winced again.

“I-I need to wash my face. There’s blood everywhere.” Erin said suddenly, getting up to the bathroom.

When she shut the door, James rang Michelle, praying she’d pick up.

“Oi, dicko! I’m about to start my shift, what do you want? Wait a minute- are you crying?”

“Michelle, you need to come back to the flat.” He sobbed.

“What? James...what’s going on?”

“It’s Erin. Will- he, he...”

“He what?”

“He...Erin’s hurt. Will...”

“James. I really need you to speak words because I can’t fucking understand you!” She spat.

“Will’s been beating Erin!”

“What?!”

“Seriously, Michelle. I need help, I don’t know what to do! Should I bring her to the hospital? I-”

“I’m on my way back.” She said, hanging up.

James hung up the phone and ran to the bathroom door.

“Erin? Are you okay?”

She opened the door as she was putting her jumper back on.

“Erin, you’re bleeding. Your arm.”

She turned to look in the mirror where the bandage on her arm was peaking through.

“Sit down, on the toilet.” He said gently, walking towards her.

Erin stared at him in confusion.

“Just do it, please. I need to look at your arm.”

Erin didn’t want him to see the bruises under her shirt, but she knew he wouldn’t let her get away with it.

She unzipped her sweater to reveal her body, naked, other than her bra.

Bruises shaped like hands danced across her ribs. Colours of red and black flashed before him.

James sobbed and turned around quickly.

Erin stayed silent, sitting on the toilet. She reached up and went to grab the bandage on her shoulder.

The tears didn’t stop from flowing out of James’ eyes, but he turned around to help her.

She looked at him, her eyes hopeless and afraid.

“I’m... I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I know,” Erin said. “Can you hand me that makeup wipe?”

He reached over the counter to pass her a wipe, and she began to wipe the makeup off her cheek, revealing a bruise there too.

James tried to keep it together for her sake, but he couldn’t stop crying.

“Erin, this cut on your shoulder. How did this happen?”

She looked at him fearfully, her eyes shimmering with tears.

“You can trust me, you know.” He whispered, hand grazing her shoulder.

“He…he threw a beer bottle.” She mumbled.

“When?” He whispered.

“Yesterday.”

“I should’ve known.” He said to himself. How could he suspect this was going on, though?

Suddenly, Michelle barged into the flat and into the bathroom, stopping dead in her tracks when he saw the state Erin was in.

“Erin...”

She began to cry again when Michelle came in. Immediately leaping forward, Michelle pushed James to the side so she could wrap her friend in a comforting hug.

“Michelle, be careful!” James said, still crying.

“Sorry. Oh, Erin! Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I couldn’t...” she trailed off, looking at James, suddenly feeling slightly self-conscious in her vulnerable state.

“Where is this prick? Did you call the cops?” Michelle said. Suddenly, the door was knocked on extremely aggressively.

Erin looked at James in fear. “Who was that?”

Michelle stood up. "I'll go check."

“No. You stay here with Erin.” James said.

“What if it’s Will?” Michelle whispered.

“Lock the bathroom door. Here.” He handed her the cordless phone from the kitchen.

“James." Erin pleaded, grabbing his hand. "Don’t go out there. He could-“

“Erin. Be quiet. Stay inside here, and whatever you do...don’t make a sound!” James said desperately, hand on her cheek.

James left the bathroom and Michelle immediately leaped up to lock the door behind him.

Erin covered her mouth, suppressing her sobs.

Michelle didn’t know how to react. She looked down at her friend, bleeding and bruised. Erin was terrified. Out of her mind terrified- proving how dangerous this man was.

“Erin...quit crying!” Michelle whispered.

“But James-“

“Just be quiet. I’m calling 999.”

She slowly dialled the three numbers as Erin clenched her friend's hand.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the door, a very drunk William stumbled into the flat.

“You,” James spat, stepping towards him when Will pushed his way into the living room. “You have guts coming in here.”

Will laughed. “So, the little bitch told you?”

James had never felt such anger in his life. He’d never felt the need to hurt someone more than he did at that moment. But considering the way Will talked about Erin and the way he treated her, James couldn’t help but step forward towards him.

“Don’t even say her name,” James seethed.

"Where is she?"

"Not here. And you'll never see her again, do you hear me?!"

Will swung forward and took the first punch at James, copping him right in the jaw. James couldn’t help but let out a groan in pain, and Will laughed.

Good, He thought, thinking about what he was going to do next. This will be self defence then.

James jumped forward, surprised at the adrenaline running through his veins, giving him such bravery.

He lunged at William, smashing him into the shelf on the wall, books and vases falling everywhere.

Locked in the bathroom, Michelle was preoccupied with the 999 operator, as well as her own fear, to see Erin shifting in her seat.

And before Michelle could do anything about it, Erin unlocked the door and ran into the living room to see the two guys wrestling on the floor.

She didn’t say anything, but gasped, causing Will to notice her presence.

“Erin! Go back in the washroom.” James grunted. “Erin, please! He has a knife!”

“What?” She gasped.

Will suddenly jumped off of James, and although James grabbed his wrist with all his strength, Will was able to kick him down.

He lunged at Erin, forcing her against the wall, pushing on her neck in one hand, and a knife in the other.

“No!” James yelled, and that’s when Michelle ran out of the bathroom too, to see Erin against the wall with a knife on her neck.

“If you two step any closer, you’ll have a lot more to clean up than glass and broken shelves.”

Erin whimpered under the blade against her neck. She could barely breathe.

Michelle looked at James with fear, both not knowing what to do at all.

The police are on their way, Michelle mouthed to James, who nodded.

Erin struggled to push Will off of her, complaining of feeling suffocated. She kicked and punched with all her might, James and Michelle watching hopelessly.

“You stupid bitch.” He laughed. “If you stayed in the washroom, you probably wouldn’t even be in this situation now, would you?”

Erin groaned, trying to kick him away, catching eye contact with James. Sometimes she didn’t possess the ability to think her actions through, but when she heard the fight in the kitchen, she had to make sure James was okay.

“Please, let me go!” She groaned, squeezing his arm that was holding her neck.

“I promised you that if you told anyone, I’d do much worse than hitting you, wouldn’t I?”

Just what Erin was afraid of happening.

“She didn’t tell anyone! I figured it out. Please, Will. Put down the knife. You’ll kill her!”

“Like that changes my mind?” He slurred.

Erin sobbed, looking pleadingly at James. She needed a miracle, and needed one fast.

Chapter Text

“Will.” Erin croaked. “I- I can’t breathe!”

“Be quiet!!” Will seethed, pushing the knife harder into her neck, causing her to yelp. His entire weight had his palm on her neck below where the knife sat, causing her to gasp for air.

James looked around the room, desperately thinking about what to do.

Michelle was clenching her eyes, saying a prayer to God. James mumbled Hail Mary while he tried to figure out how to save Erin before she went unconscious from the lack of oxygen.

He tried to block out her whimpers of pain and her pleading words so he could concentrate. He needed to be able to move without letting Will hurt Erin even more.

Then he saw it.

Where the shelf fell before, there were wood boards on the floor.

It wasn’t the action to grab the board itself that was difficult, it was the decision and the courage building up to it, for James knew that one mistake he made, Erin could be killed in front of him.

William was faced away from them, speaking threatening words to Erin.

I need you to distract William, just talk. Don’t stop, He mouthed to Michelle, who nodded.

“William,” Michelle said nervously.

“Shut up!”

“Please. Let Erin go. Why are you doing this?” Michelle pleaded.

As the two of them argued back and forth, James tiptoed to the wall to silently grab the loose wooden board from the broken shelf.

William still hadn’t turned around, and Michelle began to flaunt her mouth rapidly, causing Will to lose focus.

“Shut UP!” He yelled.

James ran forward and with a small battle cry, he recoiled the board, then whacked it across the back of his head.

With the mixed amount of force and alcohol in Will’s system, it knocked him out completely. He immediately dropped the knife and the grip on Erin’s neck, and he fell to the floor.

Erin gasped, finally being able to breathe, and fell into James’ arms, who dropped the board and leapt forward to catch her.

“You’re okay.” He whispered. “You’re okay.”

“The sirens! I can hear them!” Michelle said, wrapping her arms around her cousin and best friend. She let go of them and walked over to the unconscious William on the ground.

Erin was still shaking, catching her breath in James’ arms.

“Make sure he doesn’t wake up. I’ll go down and meet the emergency services.” Michelle yelled to them, running out the door.

Erin didn’t say anything. She hadn’t since she’d been pinned to the wall.

James explained what was happening. “They’ve got to take a look at you. You’re going to have to go to the hospital.”

Erin gulped, avoiding James’ eyes. She couldn’t stop staring at Will unconscious on the floor.

“James...” Erin finally breathed, voice staticky from being choked.

“Erin, don’t try to-“

“Y-y-you won’t go to jail...” she said, pausing to breathe, “Will you?”

“I don’t think so. Not once they know the whole story.” He said, wiping the tears off her cheek.

The few minutes that followed were a blur. Police came in and took Will away, and ordered Erin to go in an ambulance. She knew she had to, so she obliged, James, of course, going with her. Michelle took it upon herself to call Clare and Orla and let them know what happened.

Arriving at the hospital, James was ordered to stay in the lobby while doctors and nurses took Erin. He sat down, heart thudding against his chest, being met a few moments later by the three other girls, who immediately enveloped him in a group.

“Oh my God, James.” Clare cried. “Oh my God! Is she okay?”

James cried into them. “I...I don’t know. I think so.”

“What happened?” Orla asked, parting away from her friend's group hug.

“Will came over to collect Erin from me when we were studying, and- and I went after them because I had a bad feeling. When I brought Erin-“

“Slow down!” Orla said. “Take a breath.”

James closed his eyes to stop the flow of his own tears and took a breath as Orla instructed. “When I brought Erin back, I finally figured out he’d been beating her. The bruises...God, the bruises,” He sighed, pinching his nose. “They were everywhere, some were shaped like hands. Cuts and welts. I called Michelle, and then...then we heard a knock at the door.”

“Will came?!” Clare said.

He nodded frantically, face contorted with emotion. “Drunk as ever. He- he threatened Erin because he was mad I found out. Will lunged at me, so I-I fought him in the living room, pushing him around. Erin came out of the bathroom..and that’s when-“ James closed his eyes, recalling the moments from before, breaking down again, unable to speak.

“That’s when Will pinned her to the wall. James tried to stop him. He almost choked her to death and had-had-had a knife against her throat like this.” Michelle said, pointing to James, who held up his shaking hand to his neck.

James calmed himself enough to continue the story. “I ended up whacking him with a piece of wood from the broken shelf he knocked over from the wall, and by then, the police arrived.”

James took a deep breath after recounting those awful moments, running a hand through his hair, walking away and sitting down on one of the chairs away from the girls.

“He’s pretty shaken up, aye?” Orla muttered.

“Orla, it was awful. I’m...I’m so scared for Erin.” Michelle said, trying to wipe her tears before anyone noticed.

“What possessed him?” Clare said. “I would’ve never suspected-“

“He did drink quite a bit...” Michelle trailed off. “I feel like it’s our fault that Erin is hurt. We never suspected it.”

The three girls looked over at James, who had his head in his hands on the chair on the other side of the fairly empty lobby.

“James and I are going to have to be questioned by the police, as well as Erin,” Michelle whispered. “I bet the police are talking to Erin as we speak right now.”

Orla nodded.

“I’m going to go sit with James,” Michelle said.

She made her way over to her cousin, who still was crying.

“James, she’s going to be okay,” Michelle said, sitting in the chair beside him. “You saved her.”

He looked up from his hands, staring at her with puffy eyes. “You don’t understand, Michelle. I wasn’t fast enough. I had so many gut feelings...I should’ve listened to them.”

James half expected his cousin to rip a strip off of him as she usually did, but instead, she placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“It’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault except for Will’s, which is why he’s going to jail, James.”

“Poor Erin. She must be so... traumatized.” He sobbed. “Who knows what he did to her behind closed doors.”

James' voice trailed off when he felt his stomach lurch in fear.

“We’re going to help Erin the best we can.” She said. “Don’t worry. She's got us. She’s got you.”

The Doctor came out and the four of them looked up immediately at him.

“Are you here for Erin Quinn?”

They all stood up immediately.

“Is she okay?” James said frantically.

“She’s going to be just fine. The bruises will take time to heal, but we’ve prescribed her some pain medications.”

The four of them let out sighs of relief.

“As for the trauma she suffered to her neck, her voice has slightly deteriorated a minor amount. It might take some time for it to come back completely. It'll be painful for her to speak for the next few days.”

“When can she come home?” Orla said.

“We’ll keep her overnight for observation, make sure her breathing is normal and run some tests. One of you can stay with her for the night, but you don't want to overcrowd her.”

“Can we see her?” Michelle said.

“Indeed. Go on in down the hall, room 20 on your left- but be mindful. She’s probably shaken up. The police were just inside questioning her.”

They nodded and walked down the hall to find her sitting up in bed, fiddling with her necklace. Her fragile body was covered with peppered bruises. Erin was wearing a hospital gown, and a blanket was covering the lower half of her body.

“Knock knock,” Clare said, and Erin smiled softly when she saw her friends in the doorway.

“How’re you feeling?” Michelle said, pulling up three chairs from the corner. James took a seat at the end of her bed, patting her legs gently, which were covered by her blanket.

“Pretty shitty.” Erin croaked softly, grabbing James hand. He rubbed his hand over her thumb, not having the words to say anything.

They didn’t know what to say to her, but Erin did.

“I’m sorry I lied to you all.” She whispered. James shifted closer to her.

“Erin- don’t-“

“Don’t apologize for that. It wasn’t your fault.” Clare whispered to Erin.

She just nodded. “The police were just in. They asked what happened. They wanted to talk to you and Michelle.” She said to James.

He nodded. “I expected that. The Doctor told us you’re to stay here overnight.”

“Why’s that?” She asked frantically.

“Observations,” Michelle said.

“Did...did you call my Mammy? Or Dad?”

They shook their head. James spoke up. “I’m going to in a bit.”

“They’re going to be so worried.” She sighed.

“I’ll explain everything to them, Er. Don’t worry.”

She nodded.

“It’s getting late. It’s got to be ... 9:00.” Erin whispered, looking at the dark window.

“I’ll stay with you,” James said.

The three other girls looked at Erin, and then at James.

“I want to stay.” He continued. “Let me. I don’t want you to be alone.”

She nodded.

“We can come back in the morning,” Michelle said. “Only one person can stay with you, the doctor said.”

Erin nodded.

The others stayed until visiting hours were over at ten o’clock, and the room gained silence.

“You should get some sleep,” James whispered to her, now sitting at the head of her bed beside her.

“James.....” Erin said, but her voice trailed off.

He looked at her, encouraging her to continue.

She leaned over to hug him. “Thank you. You saved me today. You truly did.”

James squeezed her as hard as he could without further injuring her.

“Erin. I love you. I’d save you a thousand times over.” He whispered.

They told each other that they loved one another often because they were best friends- it was a common phrase used in their tight knitted group.

Both of them knew that this was a little more than their platonic ‘I love you'.

“I love you too, Jamie.” She said.

Chapter Text

James couldn’t sleep.

He knew Erin couldn’t either, and he watched her from his position on the chair at the side of her bed, feeling her body toss and turn beside him.

James found himself getting lost in his daydreams, his brain printing new thoughts like a scanner; afraid of what was coming tomorrow. His mind was elsewhere, not really aware of the present.

And when Erin sobbed out loud in the dead silence of the hospital room, it pushed him right out of his daydream, scaring the living daylights out of him. Her heartbeat on the monitor began to beat rapidly, and he knew she was fighting off painful memories

He immediately reached over and turned the lamp on the table beside him, the light shining to reveal her sweaty forehead and tear-stained cheeks.

“Erin?” He whispered, leaving his chair and sitting by her shoulder. She was thrashing and throwing hands in her sleep, crying out loud for help.

“Erin! Wake up!!” James shook her gently, trying not to push on her bruises. He ran his hands through her sweaty hair, caressing her face delicately.

“No!” Erin's pained cries filled the room. She screamed, pawing at his hands, begging him to stop touching her. “Get away from me!!”

“Erin! Wake up, it’s a dream! It's me, James!”

Erin finally opened her eyes, her view blurry from her own tears.

Due to her obstructed vision from crying and her foggy nightmare mind, Erin was absolutely terrified. When she saw a figure of a young man sitting beside her on her bed, her immediate reaction was to kick him away.

“Get off me!” She yelled, pushing her foot to his side, blunt force knocking James off the bed. A nurse came in at this point, hearing all the commotion.

Erin swiftly got up from the bed and against the wall, breathing heavily, holding her hand over her mouth to suppress her sobs.

“What’s going on in here?!” The nurse hissed, seeing James get up from the floor.

“Ma’am, she-she had a nightmare. I think she thinks I’m going to hurt her!” He whispered.

The nurse glanced at her chart, then nodded, being previously told of Erin’s story.

“Will.” Erin's cracked voice filled the small hospital room, echoing off of the walls. “Don’t...please.”

Suddenly, Erin took a step forward from behind the heart monitor machine to see James standing there, hands up in the air in surrender. Behind him was the nurse.

“Erin, it’s me. It’s James.”

“Erin, love. It’s okay. It’s your nurse, Nurse Emma, and your friend James.”

She rubbed her eyes, shaking her head to see if she could focus on the young man in front of her.

“James... I....”

She suddenly felt extremely guilty.

“I’m... I'm so sorry." Erin gulped. "I-“

“Shhh.” He said, coming around to the other side of the bed. When Erin stepped back at his swift motion, James immediately stopped.

She was afraid of him.

Not James, but Will. And their similar looks in the dark caused her to shy away from one of the people she trusted most in the entire world.

“Erin, love. Get back into bed. I need to re-insert your IV. It was ripped out.”

She shuddered at the thought and quietly climbed back into bed. The lights in the room were turned on by the nurse, everything being in clear sight. Nurse Emma struck her with the needle, causing her to wince.

James stood at the end of the bed, watching, in slight shock of what had happened. As she calmed down, Erin held out her hand to him while the nurse assessed her vitals, and he came around to sit back in the chair, taking her smaller hand in his.

“Are you okay now, love? I’ll give you a light sedative so you can fall back to sleep, okay?” Nurse Emma said.

Erin nodded, feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived.

The Doctor was called in to approve the decision, and soon enough, the nurse left James and Erin to fall back asleep after triple checking everything was okay.

“James.” Erin croaked in the dark, her voice still shaky from the trauma to her neck.

He lifted his head, which was leaning on the edge of her bed, along with their intertwined hands.

“I’m sorry for pushing you off the bed. I thought you were “

“You don’t have to explain.” He said, rubbing his thumb along her bruised wrist.

“No, I do, even if you know what happened. I need to hear it come out of my mouth. I.. I had a nightmare, and I wasn't completely awake, and... I thought you were Will.”

He nodded, already knowing that that was the case.

"When I saw you sitting above me on the bed, I...”

Erin’s voice cracked and shuttered, and she looked away. “I just thought you were going to...” She paused, thinking of her words, although her voice trailed off and she never continued her sentence.

James gulped and his mind wandered into places he didn't want it to wander. He thought about the things Will did to her, and how he barely even knew the extent of abuse Will partook in.

“I don't think I’ll ever be able to be hugged or touched lovingly without shuddering.” She whispered, looking back at him. “Even if it's you. What if...what if I never forget about this? What if I’m damaged goods forever? What if no one wants me?”

Erin’s crazy, overthinking mind ran as per usual, but she wondered out loud, allowing James to hear her thoughts.

“Erin....”

James thought about how he loved her. How he wanted her. How they both loved each other.

But he refrained from running his mouth. She was too fragile. Having just come out of an abusive relationship, he knew Erin enough to know that she wasn't ready for new emotions.

“I’m sure you're going to find someone in life who will cherish you as you deserve. Will deserves nothing, and you deserve everything. You're going to get through this. It's just a matter of time.”

She nodded, her eyelids beginning to feel heavy as the sedatives kicked into her system.

“Promise you won't leave me tonight?” She mumbled, squeezing his hand softly.

“I promise. Now get some rest. I'll be right here when you wake up.”

James awoke at eight o'clock, his neck sore from leaning over in an awkward position the entire night. His hand had never let go of hers, but he broke them apart so he could stand up and stretch.

James, once awake, thought about how he was going to tell Gerry and Mary what was happening. They'd insist for her to come home back to Derry, but even he knew she'd refuse that.

He wandered into the hallway to find coffee, and a tea for Erin when she woke up. He wanted to put off calling the Quinn's as long as he could, but he knew they needed to know what happened.

"James!"

His tired and stiff body whipped around to see Michelle, already with a tray of coffee in hand.

"Morning." He said to her when she came up and hugged him. It was a rare sight to see Michelle hug her cousin, but in these circumstances, she felt the need to comfort him.

"How was your night?" She whispered. They were standing right outside Erin's hospital room, trying to keep their voices down to refrain from waking her up.

"Rough." He mumbled, sipping the coffee Michelle brought.

She raised an eyebrow, silently asking him what happened.

"Erin...she had a nightmare. But it wasn't just the kind of nightmare where it freaks you out a bit. She full-on had a panic attack. When I sat beside her to wake her up, she kicked me off the bed. She thought I was... him."

Michelle sighed. "Did you ask her about the dream?"

He shook his head. "She just told me that she thought I was Will, and when she saw me on the bed she thought I was going to..."

"Going to what?"

"I don't know. She didn't specify. I'm assuming she thought I was going to beat her." He mumbled.

"Or...rape her?" Michelle said apprehensively.

"Michelle!" James got white in the face, the blood draining in his cheeks when Michelle vocalized what he'd been wondering since her nightmare.

"Well, I don't know... do you think Will was more than just...?"

"Michelle, please. Enough. She'll tell us when she is ready, and quite frankly, I can't think of another thought similar to that without... feeling sick." His eyes were gathering tears again and he swallowed the ill feeling in his throat.

"Mary and Gerry are already on their way over."

James nearly spits out his coffee. "What?!"

"I took it upon myself to call them last night. I knew you'd be afraid to, and I felt they needed to know as soon as possible."

"Michelle! What did they say?" He spat. "I hope you told them everything."

"I did. I was on the phone with Mrs Quinn for nearly two hours yesterday night. Until half-past twelve."

"They must be so worried."

"They are. But at least they're coming, and Erin is okay now."

James sighed. "Yes." He whispered softly, peeking his head through the door to check on Erin's sleeping form for the fifth time since Michelle and arrived. "Where are the others?"

"Coming. I came early to bring coffees, and double-check to see if you needed anything."

"Really?" James smiled softly, surprised at his cousin's change in demeanour.

"Shut up."

"Thank you for everything these past few days, Michelle."

"Jamie, no matter how much I pick on you, I'll always be here when you need me. You're my favourite cousin."

"I'm your... I'm your only cousin."

 

Suddenly, they heard a shifting in Erin’s room, signifying she was awake.

“Good morning, sleepyhead,” Michelle said, rushing past James to greet her friend.

Erin yawned, feeling like she had been hit by a bus. Her body was even sorer than it was the day previously, as it usually was.

“Hi, Michelle.” She spoke softly, her face with a hint of a smile. James helped her sit up, making sure she was careful.

“How are you this morning?” She mumbled, taking James’ seat by her head, and James sat at the foot of her bed.

“Fine.” She said, both of them knowing that she was lying.

Michelle looked at James, knowing that she had to tell Erin that her mum and dad were on their way.

“Erin, I have some news.”

She looked at Michelle quizzically, then over to James.

“Your mum and dad…”

“Did you call them?” Erin said.

Michelle nodded. “They are on their way over now.”

Erin nodded, not surprised. She was quite honestly embarrassed more than worried.

“What are they going to think?” She mumbled to herself.

“They’re worried, Er. They just want to make sure everything is okay.” James said to her.

She nodded, feeling slightly ill. Erin worried about how her mammy was going to lecture her or if her dad was going to coddle her.

Erin sighed, closing her eyes. She’d just have to accept it.

Chapter Text

Orla and Clare came to visit that morning, but their visit was cut short when two policemen came in.

“Michelle Mallon and James Maguire- are they present in this room?” The female officer said. She had a kind face but a stern tone, enough to make Erin sink back in bed.

“Aye, right here,” Michelle said, pointing to herself, as well as her cousin.

“You two.” The officers said to Orla and Clare. “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ask you two to leave. I need to ask these two important questions.”

Clare and Orla, of course, understanding, nodded. The police officers momentarily left the room.

“I think I’m going to be held up,” Michelle said to Clare. “The Quinn’s plane lands in an hour- can you pick them up from the airport? It's section B gate 13.”

Clare nodded, glad to feel useful.

“Of course I can.” She whispered. “Is… Is everything okay?”

“Aye,” Michelle said, looking nervously at Erin, who thankfully was being distracted by James so she couldn’t hear their conversation. “I think the police just needs to hear our sides of what happened... make sure everything lines up.”

Clare and Orla nodded.

“Be careful, Michelle,” Orla mumbled. “They won’t arrest James for kicking the lights out of him, will they?”

“No, I don’t think so. He saved Erin’s life.” Michelle said, looking back at the two of them sitting on the bed. “Without him…”

The three girls were silent. “Alright, we’ll head out. Should I bring Mary and Gerry over after they land?”

“Call me when you’re at the airport. I’ll let you know where we are. Erin could even be released from the hospital by then and back in our flat.”

“Okay. Good luck, Michelle. Help James out; he can be quite shy and flustered under pressure.” Orla said.

“Thank you, Orla. Don’t worry, I've got everything under control.”

The two girls left without another word, meanwhile, James was trying to reassure a very nervous Erin.

“They must question us, Erin,” Michelle added after Clare and Orla left. “They need to know the story.”

“I’m just worried.” She spat. “What if...”

The door was knocked on again and the officers came in.

“I’m Officer Downey, this is Officer Layle.” The female said gently. “Can I speak to James Maguire first? We’ll talk to you in the room next door one at a time. It won’t be too long.”

James gulped, and Erin was about to plead with him not to leave her, but she kept her mouth shut. Michelle took his place on the bed and the girls watched him depart with the two officers.

The door was shut behind him, and although James had nothing to hide, he was as nervous as Clare on a school exam day. His hands were shaking and his heart was pounding out of his throat.

“Alright, James. I just need to ask you a few questions about what happened yesterday.”

“Of course.”

“What happened before Erin left that night with William? It looks like she mentioned she was with you.”

“Indeed. We were studying for an exam.”

“Yes, she mentioned that.” Officer Downey said. “Can you elaborate?”

James nodded. “I noticed Erin had been acting strange- not herself for the past couple of weeks; I’d know, she’s my best friend. I thought she was just oddly stressed with school, as it's very important to her. She and I have the same Shakespeare course, and she badly failed the exam. Of course, I offered to help her study. She’d been jumpy that week, flinching whenever I touched her or our friends made an elaborate noise. I… I thought it was from the lack of sleep. The more it happened, the more I grew suspicious. When William came over that day when we were studying, she looked as though she were going to be sick. Her face went white and she cowered like a dog behind me… I knew something was wrong.”

“And so you followed them?”

“I didn’t want to make a scene… now I know I shouldn’t have let her go with him in the first place. I blame myself for not making that decision sooner. Thirty minutes after they left my gut was telling me to go find her, so I did. Her….her nose was bleeding, and she looked so scared when William answered the door to his dorm. I had to make up a lie to get her out of there.”

“What was the lie?” Officer Layle asked him, hand on the recording machine strapped to his lapel.

“Oh, I just said that our friend- Erin’s cousin, Orla had been rushed to the hospital.” He said. “It got her out of there, and it was when I took her back to my dorm room that she began to cry and I noticed the fresh bruises and marks on her neck and shoulder- the ones from that day that she didn’t have time to cover up. She had no choice but to tell me the truth. That's when I called Michelle, Erin’s best friend and my cousin. She was at work… I didn’t know what to do. She immediately came and helped me comfort Erin and tend to her injuries.”

"Why did you wait thirty minutes?"

"If I'm being honest, I've always been intimidated by William. I didn't want to get into Erin's business too much, and I was worried I would embarrass myself. I wish I went right away, or better yet, never let her go with him."

“And if I’m following correctly, this is when William shows up to Erin’s dormitory.” Officer Downey said, looking at her notepad.

“Yes. Erin began to freak out, knowing he’d hurt someone if it was in fact him at the door, so I told the girls to lock the door to the bathroom. Michelle called 999.” His voice began to crack. “He began to threaten us, saying things like he was going to kill Erin because she told me about how he'd been hurting her. I asked him to leave, as he was pissed drunk, but he swung at me. I tackled him to the ground, and that’s when our bookshelf fell. Erin knew he’d be out to hurt me, so when she heard the smash of the bookshelf falling, she….” He took a breath.

“Take your time.” Officer Layle added.

“She unlocked the door and ran into the living room, and when she saw him pounding his fists to me, she yelled. I tried to grab him, but I’m not strong enough against him and he had a knife- I saw it, so…so… he kicked me down. His hand…” James held his hand to his neck. “Grabbed her, like this, and he reached into his pocket to pull the knife out. Will pushed her against the wall, choking her with one hand, and pressing the knife to her throat with the other.” James took a deep breath, trying to clear the tears.

“This can be traumatic for you as well… so please, James… Take your-“

“No, I’m okay. I just want to make sure this bastard is put in jail. He almost killed the person who I love most in this world, and he deserves to suffer.”

The police officers nodded, going back to writing in their notepads.

“He told us that if either Michelle, whom might I add, ran out shortly after Erin did, or I moved a centimetre that he’d slice her throat. In his words, he said ‘there’d be a lot more to clean up than just the broken shelf’. I didn’t know what to do... Erin was gasping for air and begging for him to stop, sobbing aloud. I saw the broken shelf, so I mouthed to Michelle for her to distract William. I knew that with one wrong move, Erin could die right in front of me. As Michelle talked, I grabbed a wooden board from the shelf, and swung it, clambering him in the back of the head. He immediately passed out, which greatly relieved me, because I didn’t think I swung hard enough. I… think it was because of the alcohol in him. Michelle went down to meet the ambulance and police, and Erin went to the hospital while Will was taken. That's it. I just want you to know that everything I did, I did to save Erin. I know that if I didn’t take those actions, Erin could be killed or seriously injured.”

“We do not doubt that. We also feel like you deserve to know that William had two counts of assault on his record already.”

“What?”

“Indeed. I can’t give any more details.”

James nodded.

“James Maguire, you truly saved your friends life.” Officer Layle said.

“I did what anyone would do for someone they love,” James said.

“We have everything we need to know from you. You’ll be getting a call for updates with the case shortly.”

James nodded, not really understanding the whole court thing, but knew enough to know that domestic abuse cases rarely were taken to court.

“You may go. And can you bring Ms Mallon in as well?”

“Of course.” He said, exiting politely.

James, hands all sweaty from nerves, walked back next door. The minute he opened the door, Erin and Michelle looked up.

“Go on in Michelle.” He smiled. Michelle got up from the bed, patted Erin's hands, and walked next door.

“How’d it go?” She croaked, looking warily at James, who sat down beside her on the bed. He grabbed one of her hands, playing with her fingers.

“Fine. I told them the truth.”

“Are you going to jail?”

James chuckled. “No. But guess what?”

“What?” Erin looked at him, eyes widening.

“William.. he had two other counts of assault on his record.”

“What?!” Erin said.

“They couldn’t give me any more details… I’m not all sure that they were even supposed to tell me that much.”

“I guess that won’t be in his favour.”

“I have a feeling he’ll be in jail for quite a while. He could even be charged for attempted murder.” James mumbled.

“I doubt it. Cases like these… they don’t pay too much attention to them.” Erin sighed, grabbing his hand. “As long as you’re not going to jail, that’s what I care about. Now all I need to worry about is mammy and daddy.”

“Everything’s going to be fine, Er. They’re just worried.”

“They’re going to try to make me come back home.” She mumbled. “I won’t want to. I can’t leave you… you guys.” She said nervously.

“You need to do what’s going to be best for you and your health.” He said.

“I know. And moving away from you definitely won’t help. You’re the only person I can trust one hundred per cent right now. Moving away from you will make me stressed and anxious.”

James couldn’t help but smile knowing Erin felt safe and comfortable around him. He knew he did everything in his power for her to feel that way, so clearly, he was doing something right.

Chapter Text

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.

“Hullo?”

“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.”

“Alright.”

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."

Chapter Text

Mary and Gerry ended up staying in a hotel in downtown London for a few days to keep an eye on their daughter. They watched intently as the wee English fella went out of his way to make Erin feel comfortable and safe, and was extremely respectful to them as well when it came to talking about Erin. 

There were many times that Gerry and Mary noticed he'd ask them for permission for things like staying the night in Erin's bedroom when she didn't want to be alone. That comforted Mary and Gerry, and they knew their daughter would be in excellent hands when they returned home to Derry.

"James, dear." They said to him as he washed up after tea. Erin hopped in the shower and the other girls were in the living room, and Gerry and Mary took it upon themselves to talk to James and let them know that they'd be leaving.

"You know Gerry and I are going back to Derry tomorrow. We just wanted to tell you a few things-"

"I promise, Mrs Quinn. She's in good hands."

"Oh, I don't doubt that for a millisecond. I've seen the way she trusts you. She trusts you with her life- and I trust you with her life as well."

James nodded, thankful that Mary trusted him. He knew it would be hard for her to gain that trust, and he clearly had been successful with that.

"You promise you'll make sure she phones home often and makes sure she answers us when we ring her as well?"

James nodded. "I've also got all of her Doctor's appointments scheduled, so don't worry about that too."

"Oh, James." Mary cried, pulling him in tightly for a hug, soon being joined by Gerry as well. "Thank you. You have no idea how grateful we are for you, love."

"There's no need to worry. She's in good hands with me and the girls. I've got all my classes with her this term as well, so you don't need to worry about her being alone."

They nodded, pulling away from James. Mary wiped a few stray tears from her eyes and huffed, smiling slightly.

"Okay. That'll put the gist of my nerves at ease."

 

.......

 

The next day, after long hugs and a few tears, Michelle and Clare dropped the Quinn's off at the airport. As much as she would miss her mum and dad, Erin couldn't help but feel a slight weight being lifted off of her shoulders. For the week they were there, they coddled her like a sick puppy, and even pestered at her to tell them what happened. She was growing stressed, and quite frankly, she was ready for them to leave.

James basically moved in with the girls, bringing pairs of clothes and some things he could keep in their flat since he spent almost every night, not wanting to be too far from Erin. She wasn't ready to be left with her nightmares alone.

One night, a few days after Mary and Gerry had left, Erin had laid awake for the majority of the night, unable to fall asleep. Her mind was racing, and her body couldn't stop shaking, her demeanour being a nervous wreck. At three in the morning, she finally decided that she had enough, and walked into the kitchen to fetch a glass of water.

She eyed James' sleeping form on the couch in the sitting room. Erin badly wanted to wake him up. When she was with him, her shaking nerves were almost instantly relieved with the sound of his voice or being within close proximity to him.

 Reaching for the cupboard to grab a glass, her shaking legs could barely carry her.

"Let me grab that for you, Erin."

Erin's mind went into defence mode and she yelped, scrambling away from the person reaching over her. She grabbed a frying pan on the counter and held it out in front of her, only to realise, in fact, that it was Orla with a bowl of cocoa pops, looming in the darkness.

"Jesus Christ, cousin, it's just me!" She yelled, stepping towards Erin and pawing at the frying pan.

From the corner of her eye, Erin saw James jolt up from the couch and run into the kitchen.

"Orla, you scared the socks off of me." She mumbled, putting the pan back on the counter. She jumped at the touch of James' hand rubbing her arm.

"What were you doing up?" He asked Erin with concern. 

"I could ask the same thing about Orla." Erin cocked her eyebrow at the girl shovelling the chocolaty cereal into her mouth.

"Sometimes I get up to eat a bowl of cocoa pops. I get hungry. Why were you up?"

"I was... grabbing a cup of water."

Orla shrugged and put her bowl in the sink, waddling back into her bedroom.

"Can I sleep out here with you?" Erin suddenly blurted, which surprised both of them.

"Of course." He stepped forward, enveloping her in a much-needed hug. Her head fell into the crook of his neck, and Erin felt him play with the edge of the braid hanging down her back. "Can't sleep?"

She just shook her head, too tired to cry or talk. Erin felt her heart rate relax as she breathed in his familiar scent.

"I just want to stay with you. Please."

James wasn't really surprised by Erin's bluntness and was internally happy that her character was starting to show again. He chuckled and she felt him shake as she held onto him.

"Always, Er. But I'll tell you what. Why don't we crash in your room? It's more comfortable than the old couch anyways."

She smiled, pulling away from him. The two of them stared at each other, inches apart. Erin could feel his soft breath on her face, and he was inches from her lips. James leant forward slowly to connect their lips, but she turned her head.

She just couldn't do it , as much as she wanted to. All she could think about was Will, and how dirty he made her feel in any touch of intimacy, even if it was just a kiss.

Instead, she tilted her neck to lean her forehead against his, clenching her eyes shut. She felt his hand reach up and brush her hair, and felt his lips against her forehead.

"I'm sorry, Er... I shouldn't of, I-"

"Jamie, I love you. You know I do. I'm just not ready yet..." She breathed, squeezing his hand. "It's Will, I-"

"You don't have to explain."  He whispered, caressing her cheek. "I love you too. And I'll be here when you are." He smiled down, leading her to her bedroom.

James climbed into bed, and she followed, curling up beside him, her head finding a place on his chest. His calm breathing helped her to realise where she was.

Erin was with James Maguire. The man who cherished and loved her with his whole heart, who would never lay an unkind hand on her.

His hand found her hair, softly running his fingers through the loose pieces that fell out of the plait. Erin was finally at peace, and her mind could relax.


.....................


The next morning, James opened his eyes to the phone ringing in the kitchen. He looked down to see a peaceful Erin sprawled across his chest. He couldn’t help but smile, for her face was finally relaxed. Placing a kiss on her forehead, he softly shifted her off of him without waking up just in time to catch the phone.

And when James hung up the phone after talking for an hour, a sleepy Erin shuffled out to see what was going on.

"Who was that?"

James looked at her and sighed, scratching his neck. "The police department."

He saw her tense but walked over quickly to ease her nerves. A grin plastered across his face as his eyes glossed over with tears. "Will. He's gone to jail."

"What?"

"But... not for the reasons we think. Apparently, he's been involved with other crimes as well. He's been fined money for domestic violence, but he got four years for thievery."

"Really?" Erin said surprised, rubbing her bare arms. Her mind was racing. "So... h-h- he's gone?"

James sighed. "You don't have to worry about him anymore."

Erin couldn't help but sob tears of relief, and she noticed tears coming out of James' eyes before she jumped at him, hugging him.

She was free.

Chapter Text

The next week that came through happened to be revision week, as final exams were coming up. The absence of classes made Erin feel more at ease, especially being able to spend more time with James and the girls.

As Erin began to heal, she began to feel more comfortable with having James around. He practically lived with them, and slept next to Erin every night, although she wasn’t one hundred per cent ready to start a relationship with him. She loved him with her whole heart, but her lack of trust and fear of men clung to that heart, therefore, she didn’t want to put a label on their relationship.

How she enjoyed sleeping next to him every night though. Not only did it make her feel safe and secure, but it felt so natural. Being in his arms made her feel as though her anxiety could float away.

She wanted to kiss him so bad. She could tell he felt the same way- especially when their lips lay inches away from each other each night. 

“It’s okay, Erin.” He’d tell her whenever the subject of their dating came up. “You don’t have to feel pressured into anything.”

Her heart absolutely melted. He didn’t even know more than the gist of what happened to her, and she felt as though he deserved to know. Finally one night, she worked up the courage to open up a bit more.

“James.” She whispered after he shuffled closer to her under the blankets. 
"I just...I’m ready to tell you what happened.”

He froze and tightened his grip on the girl in his arms. “Erin...you don’t have to explain why you don’t-“

“No. I’m ready to tell you. Besides, I need to talk about it.”

He briefly shifted so that they were facing each other, and he reached under the covers to grab her hand, rubbing his thumb softly along her palm. James knew it was a massive step to confide in, and he wanted to make sure she was comfortable doing so.

“Whenever you’re ready,” James softly whispered into her ear. He could hear her rapid heart rate in the otherworldly dead quiet room.

“I don’t...I don’t know where to start.” Sheepishly, she looked at him, then she nodded. "I guess from the beginning."

“Okay.” James sighed. His arm reached out from under the covers with their interlocked hands so she could see them, hoping it would bring her a bit more comfort.

“Was...was Will always mean? Did you ever expect this to happen?” James whispered softly. He figured that when she was quiet, she'd need some help to start.

Erin shook her head slowly. “Well… you know he always…”

She paused and thought hard. 

“Clearly he didn’t give me any red flags at the beginning. It sounds stupid, but I really thought he liked me until he started to yell more often. He'd berate me..." She stopped, feeling odd at spilling her feelings. She didn't want James' pity. 

"Berate you... your writing, right?"

"How did you know?" She said, turning to him, eyes glossy.

"Well, he was always slagging you off," James said. "Always about your major in university, or about 'how you'd never shut up'."

"I just assumed that because Michelle did it, he was allowed to as well," Erin said. 

"I think Michelle should be the only one who talks to you like that." He smiled softly, then his face fell. "I should've known too, especially the way he didn't even remember how you were fretting about your exam."

"I didn't even care about failing that exam, Jamie. It was the least of my worries at the moment. At that moment, I just wanted to focus on staying away from William."

James just sighed. He wanted to ask her so many questions but knew he couldn't. He'd just have to wait until she talked about it herself.

"It didn't even start off physical. He'd say some mean things, and then one night he slapped me across the face. I... I was so taken aback by it, but after he profusely apologized, I shook it off. Know I know that was an awful mistake."

James brushed the side of her cheek as she took a breather before she continued. 

"It got worse fast. With slaps, there'd be cruel words. And I'd...He'd...."

James looked at her and gulped.

"He'd get angry fast, especially... if I didn't want to do something."

James knew what she meant, and he didn't even want her to elaborate.

"I become such a wimp around him. I'd do anything he'd want for the fear that he'd hurt me even more if I didn't. I'm just so glad he's gone. I don't know..."

James looked at her, Erin's eyes turning glossy.

"I don't know what would've happened if you didn't come for me that day. Thank you for doing that."

James smiled softly, pulling her even closer into his arms.

"I'd do anything for you."

"I know. I love you."

"I love you too."

Erin couldn't wait any longer. She leaned forward and connected their lips.

And she felt safe doing so. 

Chapter Text

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

When Erin pulled away, she felt no regret. She saw him smile at her- the smile that made her heart gleam with safety and security.

“James… I…. I had been waiting so long to do that.”

He just held her, fiddling with her hair, and sighed happily. She spoke up to continue.

“I… you know I love you and trust you. But…” she stopped to lift her head from his chest. She could almost feel his heart sink at the mere thought of what she could say.

“I’d like to take things slow. Like…really slow.” She whispered. He sighed in relief.

“I’d expect nothing more, Er.” He said, brushing his lips against her forehead. He knew what she was implying at, but she still explained.

“After being taken advantage of, even just kissing you was so difficult for me, not because I didn’t want to.. but because…”

“Of Will?”

“Aye. And I can’t imagine how long it’s going to take me to want to go further.”

James brushed her pieces of fringe out of her eyes.

“I fully understand. I’m here, and I’m here for whatever you’re comfortable with.”

She shifted further into his neck, and let the breath go that she’d been holding.

James’ heart aches for her. She was so wounded, and he wondered if she’d ever be back to her normal, bubbly self.

Erin lifted her head again to press a kiss to James’ lips.

Suddenly, they heard a slight knock, followed by a quick opening of the door.

It wasn’t enough time for them to fully break apart, and when Clare stood in the doorway, mouth wide open, the couple didn’t know what to do.

They weren’t planning on keeping their newly budding relationship a secret. Everyone knew something was going on. Clare was just ecstatic for it to finally happen.

The short blonde bit her lip to stop from screaming out in joy.

“We’re you two… kissing?”

James smiled at Erin, then looked at Clare. “No.” He joked, his voice singing.

“Definitely not.” Erin agreed.

“I can’t believe it. We’ll, of course I can, it was going to happen eventually, but like, still!”

“Clare- relax.” Erin said, getting up from the bed. She grabbed James’ jumper- the one she’d worn pretty much every day, and pulled it on her. The clock read 10:04 pm.

The door swung open again.

“You’s better be getting to bed- classes start up again tomorrow- what’s going on?”

Michelle stood in the doorway on, wine glass in hand as per usual.

“Clare came in to see us-“

“I caught them kissing!” She laughed, and Michelle raised an eyebrow, just in time for Orla to poke her head in.

“‘Bout time.” Michelle smirked, throwing a pillow at Erin.

“Careful!” Clare squealed, and Orla took the other pillow from Michelle, who had it aimed right for James’ head.

“Well, you two have fun in here.” Michelle smirked, motioning to the couple on the bed. “I’m out.”

“Me too.” Clare agreed.

“Ditto.” Orla said.

Erin and James were once again left alone.

“Went well, I’d say?” James giggled.

“Aye, I’d say so.”

“Ready for bed?” James said. Erin yawned in return.

“I’m a bit nervous for classes tomorrow.” Erin looked up at James. “Everyone is bound to have heard what happened. And I don’t feel comfortable people approaching me-“

“Don’t even worry, Er. I’ll be there with you the whole time. We’ve got all of our classes together. It’s a new semester.”

She nodded, trying to swallow down her fear, but she just couldn’t stick it. Of course, it helped immensely that James was going to be there, but she couldn’t help but worry.

“Alright. I trust you.” She smiled. “I just don’t trust everyone else.”
She wasn’t lying. It was one hundred per cent true.

James sighed and nodded in return, brushing a chunk of hair behind her ear. “ You going to sleep okay tonight?”

“I took some melatonin.”

“I can make you a tea?”

“S’okay Jamie. I’m already feeling sleepy. But thank you.”

He nodded, kissed her forehead, and then sunk into the covers. Erin did the same, settling on his chest, her head in the crook of his neck.

“Good night.” She mumbled. If she couldn’t fall asleep, she’d at least pretend to be sleeping. There was no use for a tired and worried James as well.

“Good night, love.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Chapter Text

“I’ll grab it!”

James whisked past Orla and Clare to grab the phone, who were cooking sausages and eggs in the kitchen for breakfast. Erin was still in bed, and Michelle was hogging the washroom.

“Hello?”

“Oh, hello there, James.”

“Hi Mrs. Quinn.” James smiled. It was Erin’s mother on the other end.

“I was just ringing because it’s the first day back of term. I know Erin was nervous. How is she?”

James sighed. He didn’t want to lie to Mary, but he really didn’t want to worry her either.

“We’ll, uh… to tell you the truth, Mary, she’s still in bed.”

“What? What time does class start at?”

“In about an hour or so. She didn’t sleep well last night. She’s rather worried.” James continued. “I was just about to get her up. I let her sleep past the time she set her alarm for. She barely slept a wink.”

He could hear Mary sigh on the other end. “I’m worried about her, James. Is she doing okay? Is she eating okay? Is she sleeping okay?”

“She’s doing as well as can be expected. But listen, Mrs. Quinn. I know it sounds cheesy, but if anyone can get through this, Erin can.”

“I know.” Mary said. James could almost see her prided smile. “Especially because she’s got you.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Quinn.”

“You know, I tell you this everytime we speak. Call me Mary.”

James chuckled sadly.

“Alright” Mary continued. “I’ll let you go. Tell Erin I love her. Make sure she’s eating well.”

“I absolutely will. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine today. I’ll get her to call you later tonight.”

“Goodbye, love.”

“Goodbye, Mrs. Qu- Mary.”

James dropped the phone.

“That was Mary, aye?” Michelle was now in the kitchen, dipping her fingers in the muffin batter, only to he swatted away by Clare.

“Yes. She’s worried about Erin.” James sighed. “Which reminds me, I should probably go check if she’s up.”

He quietly opened the door to the bedroom they shared to find Erin still curled up under the blanket.

Quietly making his way over to the bed, James sat down at the foot. Erin immediately shuffled and opened her eyes.

“Hey.” James smiled, and then scooted over to lay under the covers with her.

“It’s time already?” She groaned, looking at the clock, then covering her face in his shoulder.

He sighed. “Class starts in an hour.”

Erin’s face was as white as a ghost. She just nodded and got up.

“Your Ma called.”

Erin cocked an eyebrow. “Really, aye? I’m SO surprised.”

James rolled his eyes at her sarcasm. A call from Mary Quinn was to be expected at least once every two days- if not every day.

“She’s worried about you.” James sighed, placing his hands on her shoulders. Erin broke away to grab a pair of tights and one of James’ jumpers from her closet.

“She’s always worried. And quite frankly, I’m worried about myself. But there’s nothing I can do about it. Just gotta live day by day.”

James nodded, impressed by her positivity.

Until she held up a finger. “Miserably. Live day by day miserably.”

James rolled his eyes once again, kissing Erin on her temple, and then left her to get ready for the day. “The girls are making breakfast, it’ll be ready in a few.”

Erin nodded, and was soon left in the room by herself.

The anxiety she felt in a room by herself was uncanny. When James wasn’t near her, she felt like someone was sitting on her chest. She felt like she was being choked.

Choked.

She blinked away the flashback. Erin could almost feel Will’s hands around her neck. Tears flooding her eyes, she finished pulling on her jumper and ran to wash her face. The cold water helped, but not nearly as much as she hoped.

A knock on the washroom door caused her to yelp.

“Jesus, sorry cousin. James wanted me to tell you that breakfast is ready.”

“Coming, Orla. Tell them I’ll be a minute.”

Erin finished up in the washroom and joined the others at the table. She sat in her usual spot across from James. Sipping on the tea he made her, she was quiet through breakfast.

She nibbled on her sausages, but didn’t even finish one.

“I’m gonna go brush my teeth.” Erin said.

“You barely touched your breakfast!” Clare exclaimed. Orla scraped Erin’s food onto her plate.

Erin sighed, looking at her friends. “I’m just not feeling well. My stomachs all funny.”

“Nerves, aye?” Michelle said. Erin nodded sadly.

When Erin left, Michelle turned to James. “Are you worried about today?”

It was James’ turn to sigh. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. I just hope everything goes okay. You know Erin. The smallest thing sends her back into flashbacks. Everyone around the campus knows what happened. I’m terrified that someone’s going to say something stupid.” Her rambled.

Michelle bit her lip in thought. “I trust you James. Don’t let anything happen to her. She’s fragile.”

“I’m not a little baby, Michelle. Stop treating me like one.” Erin scowled.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know that. I just meant that I don’t trust the world around you. Obviously, shitty things happen.”

“Not helping, Michelle.” James added.

“Guys. I’m going back to school. I’m not going back to Will. You’s can relax. I’m worried too, but… we can’t avoid it. Let’s just go.”

She grabbed her books and her bag and headed out into the hallway, but after taking a few steps out the door she looked back to make sure James was coming.

“I’m coming.” He said, shutting the door behind him.

“Michelle is right. I am fragile. I’m pathetic. The thought of walking into the lecture hall makes me want to faint flat on the floor.”

“Come on.” James grabbed her hand. “It’ll be okay.”

She sunk into his grip that he held onto her hand, and it comforted her as they walked the few hundred meters down the street.

Before James could grab the door for Erin, it swung open.

“Oh my goodness, Erin Quinn?”

Erin looked at James, then back to the small red headed girl standing in front of her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I recognize y-“

“Oh, you don’t know me. I just know you. Like… what happened to you, I guess. Everyone does. You knowLike the attempted murder of you and such by your crazy ex. How’re you feeling?”

Erin looked at James.

“I don’t think it’s really necessary to bring this up.” He said, stepping in front of Erin. “I think you should move. We need to get to class.

The girl, looking wide eyed, shrugged and walked off.

“I don’t know how much of this I can take.” Erin said. The hallway outside the lecture hall was dead silent. The class had already begun. The tears began to well up in her eyes and she felt the ball of anxiety and panic build up in her throat. It felt like she was being choked again.

“Listen-“

James put his hands on Erin’s shoulders, only for her to jump at his touch, then relax again.

“I want to go home.” She said quietly.

James looked at her, and studied her features.

“Okay, love. Let’s go home.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
Just when things seem to be getting better, they plateau out again. Poor Erin….

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

23 November, 1999

 

Here I am, writing up again. It took me so much just to pick up a pencil, but so badly do I want to feel better. Maybe writing will do that for me.

I went back to class today. A bundle of nerves, so I was, but Jamie was with me the whole time. I got weird looks again, but keeping ahold onto James’ arm and keeping my head down, we found a spot right at the front of the lecture hall, fairly separated from other students. Professor Henley gave me a small wave. I think she was delighted that I faced my fears and came. I didn’t retain any information because my anxiety was rather high, but as James always says, “one step forward can be the smallest of things.”

My heart was beating so rapidly and I felt as though I could have fainted right there, but after an hour or so, class ended and we walked back to the flat. I rang Mammy and told her how it went, and she was happy to hear from me. James and I are home now, and I think we’re going to go for a walk in Thames park.

I don’t feel any better after writing this, but that’s okay.

One step forward can be the smallest things.

-xxx Erin Josephine Quinn.

“Ready, love?”

Erin shut her diary and hid it under her mattress where it usually lay. James appeared at the door.

“You look cosy.”

He was all bundled up, with wee gloves on and his doctor who scarf.

“It’s chilly out there!” He defended himself, blushing in the cheeks.

“You’re such a fucking nerd!” Michelle yelled from the kitchen. She’d just gotten home from her class.

Erin chuckled slightly, retreating to her wardrobe to grab a coat and some gloves. They walked out of the flat arm in arm, and took the bus to the park.

“You know, Jamie. I thought going out for the first time since…. You know… would be terrifying, but I’m feeling okay.” Erin said as she sat beside him on the bus.

“Im so happy to hear that, love.” He smiled, but a bit sadly. Erin cocked an eyebrow, always recognizing the slightest change in his demeanour.

“Is everything alright with you? You seem to be thinking about something.” She said, taking his mitted hand and getting off the bus, walking through the gates of the park. Erin could almost see her breath in the late autumn air. It wasn’t rainy, but it wasn’t sunny either.

“I just…”

Erin stopped by the small stream and sat him down on a bench. Usually, she was the one being comforted. It was her turn to return the favour.

“What’s wrong? You’re scaring me.”

James snapped his head up, panic in his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you, I just…” he sighed, taking her hands. “Im really conflicted on something.”

Erin’s heart sank. “What?” She asked.

“I have this opportunity to go on this trip for my international relations course. It’s in Romania. For three weeks. Only two of us were chosen, and I happened to be one of them.”

Erin gulped, scanning him. Three weeks, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t long to anyone else. But for someone like her… that felt like months.

“That’s amazing, Jamie. I’m so proud of you.” She smiled, but she couldn’t hide the anxiety pooling at the lids of her eyes in the form of tears.

James pulled her in, breathing in the scent of the fresh air, mixed with her. “I can’t leave you though. I can’t.” He sighed, running a hand through her hair.

As much as Erin wanted to hold on to him and not let him leave her, she knew that would be extremely selfish.

“No.“ she shook her head, pulling away from him.

He looked at her strangely. “What?”

“I can’t let you stay and miss out because I need you for those three weeks. Because I’ll miss you too much. Jamie…” Erin took his hands again, and stared into his eyes.

Those green eyes, conflicted with decision.

“This is an amazing opportunity. You know that. I know that. To let you miss out on this would be foolish.” She said, wiping her tears away. “God, I’m acting as if you’re leaving forever. You’ll be gone less than a month.”

He nodded, tears forming in his own eyes. “But what about you? Who will be there to hold you when you can’t sleep. Who will walk with you to class? Comfort you when you can’t stop thinking about-“

She squeezed his hand again. “I’ll be okay. The girls are here with me. It’s almost Christmas break, anyways.” Erin sniffed. “When is the trip?”

“The flight leaves the first of December, a Wednesday. I get back a few days before Christmas, the 22nd.”

Erin nodded. “Everything’ll be okay. You’ll have such a grand time in Romania. Class ends a week before Christmas, so I won’t even have to worry about that too much.”

Erin was trying so hard to convince herself, but she couldn’t help but feel the sickness start to well up in her throat. Her separation anxiety was starting to kick in.

James sighed, his head falling in his hands. He was so conflicted.

“I just know that I won’t be able to have fun. I’ll be so worried about you.“

Erin was a little offended that he thought she wasn’t strong enough to be by herself, but brushed it off when she realised he was being realistic. He knew her better than she knew herself.

“Listen. I know it’ll be hard. It’s gonna be even harder for me. But you can ring me every night, you know I’ll be waiting for you to call.” She whispered.

“And when I come home, we’re going to have the best Christmas ever.” He smiled, wiping her cheeks with his thumb.

“Aye.” Erin said, bringing her shaking legs to the ground to stand up. She held her hand out to him, which he gratefully took, and they began to walk.

“Now.” She smiled, trying not to look him in the eye. She knew if she did, she’d begin to cry again. “Tell me about this amazing trip.”

They walked hand in hand down the beautiful path.

“Well, we fly into Bucharest, and we’re doing three weeks of studying at the University there. Learning about different cultures and relationships between countries.”

“That sounds amazing.”

“And the school… they’re paying for everything. The flights, our food. We’re staying in student housing in the University of Bucharest.”
“Who’s the other student going with you?”

“This other lad. His name is Adam Jeffrey. He’s a year older. I don’t really know him too well.”

“Aye, I see. You’ll become friends. I’m so happy for you.” Erin smiled. It was true. She was happy for him. Delighted that he got this experience.

But she was terrified for herself

Chapter Text

Erin sighed and looked at the alarm clock on her bedside table.

Four thirty seven in the morning.

She couldn’t sleep. She hadn’t fallen asleep since her and James retreated to bed around midnight. His flight was the next morning at 11:45, and Erin couldn’t stop dreading it. He waited as long as he could before he became too tired to wait up with her, falling asleep by two o’clock.

She slowly and carefully got out of bed, lifting James’ arms off her torso. He stirred, but didn’t wake up.

Erin grabbed her diary and tiptoed to the living room, where she turned on the lamp and settled on the couch. Calming her shaking limbs and raspy breathing, she opened her book.

1 December 1999,

James leaves today. It’s only for three weeks but I can’t shake the feeling of abandonment that wrecks my soul. The sick feeling won’t go. I’m so worried how I’m going to be without him. He is my rock, he is what keeps me grounded. Without him, I’m worried that all the progress I’ve made will plummet to the depths of hell and I’ll have to restart.

God, I’m so dramatic. But this is how I feel. You’d think that James is the only person who I love dearly in this world when you read this, but I’m surrounded by so many people who care for me. Even Mammy said she’d come and visit for a week while James is gone, that way I won’t feel so alone. I have Michelle, Clare, and Orla as well. I should feel well prepared and well equipped.

But I don’t.

 

“Hey Er Bear.”

Erin yelped and jumped up from her spot on the couch.

“Jesus.” Michelle huffed. “I really need to stop doing that.”

Erin sighed, regaining her normal pulse when she saw it was just her best friend that was lurking in the shadows.

“What are ye doing up?” Michelle said, sitting beside her on the couch.

Erin sighed, shutting her book. “I cant sleep.” She whispered, rubbing between her eyes. She had a god awful headache.

Michelle scanned her.

“You’re worried about James leaving, aren’t you?”

Erin just huffed and leaned against the couch.

“Are you worried he’s going to like… love Romania so much he’ll move there? Or his plane’ll crash or something? I mean… he is flying Ryanair so that is a possibility-“

“Michelle! Can you not? No. I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about me. I’m worried I’m going to spiral out of control for you guys while he’s not here.”

Michelle gulped. “Erin, stop it. You’re my best friend. I don’t care if you’re going to act crazy. I’ve seen you in worse positions.”

Erin leaned her head back to stop the flow of tears. “Im just going to miss him so much. It’s going to feel so empty without him… I’m going to feel so lonely.”

Michelle grabbed Erin’s hand. “You have me. You have Orla. And you have Clare. Your Ma is coming down for a few days too. All these people here to comfort and be with you while James is in Romania. Just so you know, though. Don’t expect me or the others to hold you and cuddle you and all that fucking gross shit when you can’t sleep like James does.” She continued, nudging Erin’s shoulder.

Erin laughed through her tears, not without shooting Michelle an irritated look. “I’d never expect that.”

“I’m just playing, come here.”

Michelle was never the touchy type for as long as Erin knew her, which was when they were wains in primary school. But Michelle, being the observant type, could tell when her hugs were needed. She pulled her friend into a gentle embrace.

“Thanks Michelle. You know, you’re a sap.”

Michelle laughed, pushing Erin away from her. “Am not. Just worried about my best friend.”

“Well, ‘chelle . Don’t start worrying yet. Not at least until James is on that Ryanair plane to Bucharest.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••

After staying up with Michelle for about fifteen more minutes, Erin retreated back into bed. She loves how as soon as she lay down on the mattress, James’ body enveloped her unconsciously. God, she’d miss that.

She fell asleep from pure exhaustion, and about 3 hours later, his alarm went off.

“Good morning.” He whispered, brushing my the whisky hair that covered her face. He’d turned the alarm of previously. Now, James was waiting for Erin to fall out of her slumber.

“Hi.” She said, opening her eyes. “You ready for today?”

James smiled. “I’m not sure. I’m so nervous.”

“It’s going to be lovely, Jamie. You’re going to have such a great experience.”

“Yeah.” He said, pulling her closer. “I just wish you were coming with me.”

“Me too.” She whispered. “But I don’t take International Relations courses. You better get up. You don’t want to miss your flight.”

James kissed her forehead and lifted the covers, Erin immediately feeling cold after her legs being exposed. She’d be telling the truth if she said secretly hoped his flight was cancelled, or he missed it.

Stop thinking like that, she told herself. It’s selfish. It’s selfish like William. You don’t want to be like him.

As James got ready for the day, she begrudgingly got out of bed to find the girls in the kitchen.

“Good morning, sleepyhead! Clare and I made scones for breakfast. Here, I’ll pour you some tea as well.”

Erin acknowledged her friends and sat at the counter.

“You seem rather miserable.” Orla said, stuffing a blueberry scone in her mouth.

“Well her lover is about to leave for a few weeks to a foreign country. I’d be miserable if I wasn’t getting any action in that time, too, if you know what I mean.”Michelle snapped. Despite their exchange of meaningful words in the earlier hours of the morning, she still had a bit of lip to her.

“Michelle, that’s not even funny. Don’t be coarse.” Clare scoffed. “Besides, you know that’s obviously not why she’s upset.”

“You guys don’t have to talk about me like I’m not here.” Erin said, taking a sip of her tea. “I’m just going to miss him, is all. It’ll be hard to be without him.”

Clare smiled sadly, coming to sit at the counter beside her friend. She leaned her head on Erin’s shoulder in an attempt to console her shaking nerves.

The girls new that Erin would struggle these few weeks. Her separation anxiety was intense when it came to James. He was the only person who seemed to truly understand her, and who could truly console and ease her trauma.

“You’ll have us, Er. What’s better than that?” Clare smiled.

 

“James is. Actually, pretty much anything is better than us.” Orla said, finishing up her breakfast and gulping down her orange juice.

Erin rolled her eyes. It was hard to be in a gloomy mood when these were the people she surrounded herself with.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The Taxi door shut, and Michelle popped out of the passenger seat, while Erin and James filed out of the back seats. The boot was lifted, and the cab driver helped unload James’ two small suitcases.

Michelle said goodbye to her cousin first. She pulled him away from Erin’s ear shot, and just as she was about to say goodbye, he began to spill out words at her out of fear.

“Michelle, promise you’ll look out for her. Make sure she eats and drinks. Make sure she gets enough sleep. Please be there for her if she can’t sleep or has a night terror, and call me if something happens, god forbid. Please, Michelle. Please.”

Michelle nodded, scanning her worried cousins face. “I promise. Everything will be fine.”

“I’m starting to think this was a bad idea. What if I’m making things worse by going? What if all of her progress is thrown out like rubbish and-“

“Stop it, James. Don’t psych yourself out now. I promise, me and Orla and Clare- we’ll take care of her. Now, go spend a few minutes with her before she chews her nails all the way off.” Michelle said, beckoning to the small blonde, who was leaning up against the taxi, fingers in her mouth in an attempt to ease her feelings of extreme anxiety.

When Erin saw Michelle walk towards her, she got up and headed towards James.

This was a goodbye she was most definitely not looking forward to.

She just stepped forward into his comforting embrace, relishing this moment, trying to let her mind record what it was like to feel his arms around her. Erin would need to keep it in her memory for when she needed it.

“I’m- im just gonna miss you so much.” She whispered. The tears were coming, she could feel it in her throat.

“I’m going to miss you too, Er. But listen, it’s only for a few weeks. I’ll be back very soon. And I’m going to ring you every night. I’ll even email some pictures to the computer at Clare’s work, that way she can print them off and show them to you.”

She nodded, squeezing him harder, breathing in his scent. The comforting smell of soap and cinnamon.

“I love you, Jamie.” She whispered, leaning upwards to kiss him softly.

“I love you too, so much. Promise you’ll tell me if you need anything- tell Michelle and the girls too. I’ll see you soon.”

The hug wasn’t long enough, but she had to let him go.

“Ring me as soon as you’re settled.” She sniffed.

“You know I will, love.”

He gave her one last kiss on the nose, a wave to Michelle, and headed inside the airport.

She saw him inside meet up with the other fellow from his Class, and the few other students from different universities.

“Alrighty, babes. Let’s head home, aye?” Michelle said, wrapping an arm around Erin’s shaking shoulder. She shuffled into the back seat beside her best friend, who had grown rather quiet.

“Back to where you picked us up, please.” Michelle told the driver.

This was going to be a long three weeks.