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13th of May 1998


Mary Quinn was always one to be suspicious and wary around exam season; she barely even looked at her daughter when she came with complaints and sent her straight back up to her desk.

It wasn’t exactly right but to be fair, she did have good reasons to be doing it. Because the majority of the time when Erin came to the kitchen with a headache or complaint she was simply trying simply to get out of a test or exam.

So, when Erin's head started slightly aching a week before exams, she ignored it. She’d been staying up till late, studying with her friends. And after Michelle gave her own account of big historical events it was no wonder her head would start to spin a little.

But then, that headache didn’t go away. Not only that, but it also became more intense, to the point where it made her completely nauseous.

It didn’t go away for two days and nothing Erin could think of was helping. She walked around the living with a cold towel on her forehead, looking like an idiot while Claire read French phrases from flashcards and Orla solved maths equations with ease on a mini-whiteboard James had set up.

After that failed to remedy the ache, she dragged her friends out onto the walls to study in the fresh air, and she even managed to get some medicine from Michelle who’d nicked it out of her mother’s work bag. But it didn’t matter. Nothing was working.

Finally, on Wednesday, she excused herself from the study circle in her living room and went up to her bedroom. To lay in her bed for some peace and quiet.

The headache was so bad that she couldn’t even fall asleep. She was exhausted because of the pain but the pain was also too strong to let her drift off. It was a bloody nightmare.

So, she just lay there, facing the ceiling, her eyes closed, and her hands resting on her forehead. It barely helped. But the pain was less annoying than when she was trying to focus on the English poets so it was a bit better.

This felt so stupid. She had to study. She had to get into college, she needed that spot in Trinity, the English course only had fifteen places for God's sake! She was Erin Quinn, she needed to get into that course. She needed to study.

But no. Instead of studying she was lying in her bed because of a particularly irritating headache. It was almost embarrassing how weak she felt.

After about thirty minutes of just laying down, she heard the door creak open. Almost immediately, a spasm of pain erupted in her head. She grimaced but didn’t open her eyes.

“Erin? You awake?” a familiar voice whispered.


Erin shook her head and pushed herself into a sitting position, slowly opening her eyes. The brightness hit her, and she grimaced again.

James walked over to Erins’ bed and knelt next to it, looking at Erin pitifully.

“Is it really bad?” he asked.

This was the type of situation that Erin would normally lie in. Exaggerate the pain for more sympathy, ending her probable monologue with notions how strong she was and how she could handle tough things. But this level of pain was beyond even her limit to talk so excessively.

“Yeah,” she said, sort of sheepishly. “Yeah, it’s bloody awful, I can’t even sleep. And I feel like I’m gonna boke my guts up.”

“Aw Erin,” James sighed, lifting his hand to gently touch Erins’ cheek. “You should really go to your mum, you know?”

Erin shook her head leaning into his hand slightly. “Nah, she’ll think I’m faking. And it will pass—”

“Erin, come on,” James cut her off, huffing a gentle laugh. “She’s your mum and you’re actually in pain. And yeah, you’re right, it will pass. After she helps you.”

Erin screwed up her face. “I’m not so sure—”

In the end, James dragged her to her mum in the kitchen. And though Mary Quinn was indeed hesitant at first, she did begin to show concern for her eldest daughter.

She did kick James and the others out of the house though.

“You should’ve come to me the moment it started Erin,” she muttered, handing her two tablets.

She was sitting on the soft couch; her little sister Anna was playing with dolls on the carpet in front of the cozy fire. “There aren’t any very strong cures for this and if it’s so bad you may have to stay in bed for a couple of days love.”

Erin swallowed the tablets, grimacing.

“Sorry— Wait, what?” She blinked at her mother in shock. “But Mammy, I have to study!”

“I’m sure you’ve studied plenty if you got a migraine this bad, Erin,” she said, looking down at her sternly. “Now lay down, I’ll get you some warm flat seven-up.”

Erin sighed but did as she’d been told for once. The idea of warm seven-up was really nice. She was very tired.

She awoke the next day, feeling someone’s hand holding her own and drawing circles with their thumb.

The second thing Erin felt was the throbbing pain in her head again. But she had to admit, the pain did seem slightly weaker.

Her eyes fluttered open, and she made a face.

There was movement next to her and someone squeezed her hand.

Erins’ vision focused and he saw James, smiling at her softly.

“Erin,” he said quietly, smiling.

Erin returned the smile. “Hi.”

Her voice was a bit scratchy, so she cleared her throat. James let go of her hand to point at the nightstand.

“I brought you some food,” he said. “Just some sausage rolls and wedges”

Erin nodded. “Thank you, I— What time is it? Will I make it to school? Who let you in!?”

James’ soft smile turned into an amused one. “It’s two in the afternoon, Erin, and you’re not going into school today, I left early, and your grandad let me in with some convincing and a few sausage rolls”

Erin blinked, feeling anxiety rise in her chest. “Two in the afternoon? Christ, I have to study—” And with that, she made a move like she wanted to get up.

But James’ gentle hand kept her down. “Erin. You’re sick. Let yourself be sick.”

“But we have exams” Erin groaned.

“And you’re the smartest person I know,” James said gently. “There’s no way you won’t pass.”

Erin arched an eyebrow. “Are you kidding me? ‘The smartest person I know.’ Do you not know yourself?” She grinned. “Do you not know Claire? Even Orla could beat me on a good day”

James let out a small laugh. “You’re amazing, Erin, you know that. Your first exam is English anyway and you’ll fly it”

Erin looked down, avoiding James’ eyes. “Well—”

“You are,” James said sternly. “And anyway, you won’t learn anything if your head hurts this bad. And you probably won’t write much in the exam either if your head hurts.”

That made a little bit of sense.

Erin looked back up at James. “Okay. Yeah, fine. Maybe you have a point there”

James grinned and leaned forward, pressing a small kiss onto Erins’ forehead. “It’s gonna be alright.” She blushed at the gentle kiss. They hadn’t done anything romantic but second long glances and slight flirting since that eventful morning in Donegal and it felt nice to have someone care so much about her.