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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.

James.

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.

Chapter Text

December 23rd 1998

James Maguire didn't expect to feel the overwhelming sense of home as he travelled from Queens University Belfast to Derry. Still, he was grinning from ear to ear the entire bus journey to his real hometown. He hadn't bothered to come back to Derry over October mid-term break. Instead, Michelle, who had remained in Derry after finishing school, had come to Belfast on Halloween night to go out with him, Orla and Claire.

James, Claire, and Orla all decided to live together once they got accepted to Queens; it made the transition from home to University a lot easier.

Erin had ended up staying in Dublin the night of Halloween. He still wasn't quite sure why she'd made that decision. He hadn't seen her in almost four months; however, they wrote to one another about three times a week. Erin blushed as he told her how they should write to each other to ensure they stayed in contact after informing him that her studio flat by Merrion Square Park didn't have a landline. It wasn't a chore to him. He wanted to always have Erin in his life, and he never realised how important that line of communication was to Erin until that Christmas of 1998.


Erin started at Trinity College in September, thinking that she'd easily make friends and have a good time, but that hadn't been the case so far. She'd tried to make some friends by going to some fresher events and talking to her flatmates and coursemates, but she still hadn't met anyone she would consider a friend yet. During the first few weeks of classes, she found herself in a lecture with two girls, they spoke a bit, and one suggested that they could hang out, but they never did.

She talked to some people in her seminars and sat with them in lectures, but they never did anything outside of classes. She assumed that they already had their own groups of friends anyways. She never thought it would be this hard to make friends at University. Erin had such high hopes for her time at University, wanting to join literature societies and go clubbing with some cool new friends. Still, nothing seemed to be going to plan.

The people she met in the English literature society were pretentious and looked down on her ideas, so she stopped attending the meetings. Clubbing was also out of the question as she hadn't met anyone to consider a friend.


"Motherfuckers!" Erin beamed as she entered the pub in Derry and heard Michelle behind the bar welcoming her. "Christ, I missed you, Michelle" she couldn't help but tell her the truth. The two best friends embraced after Michelle declared her shift over and hopped over the bar. Michelle looped their arms together. "The other dickos are in the lounge, and Claires already shitfaced. How was your trip back?" "It was long and so boring. Definitely not looking forward to doing it again in two weeks. Four hours on a smelly bus wasn't the nicest pre-Christmas treat" She brushed the hair behind her ear and caught Michelle looking at her funny. "It's fucking brilliant your home. You could do with a few weeks away from those knock off Seamus Heaneys." Erin nodded in agreement; little did Michelle know how much she needed her friends.

Claire was the first to spot them and ran to hug Erin, Orla next. The youngest of the friend group would never say it. Still, she desperately missed her cousin. University was going wonderfully for Orla, who had been embraced by the modern dance society in Queens. But, it didn't make her miss her best friend any less.

James joined the hug by wrapping his arms around all of them. His found family and best friends in the world, maybe it was the two pints getting to him, but he was feeling misty-eyed at the thoughts of them finally coming back together.


Hours later and many impromptu dance routines later, Orla lay back on the pub's couch and let her eyes close. James watched her. "Alright, Orls?" she quickly replied. "I'm thriving, James", before completely passing out. He grinned at her and then shifted his eyes and watched as Claire and Michelle were engaged in a deep conversation across the table. He barely had time to contemplate the subject matter of the discussion when Michelle grabbed his arm, and Claire looked him in the eye. "You need to talk to Erin; she's acting so weird, it's not right, and we're worried". Claire had a tendency to always be worried about something. He tried to think back over the night and realised he hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary regarding Erin's behaviour aside from an unusual clinginess to each of them. "She seems to be having a good time. Where is she?" Michelle shook her head furiously. "She was almost crying when talking about college. She kept looking at us as if we're going to run away; she's fucking miserable". Claire nodded in agreement with Michelle. "For some reason, you can always get her to talk about her feelings" Claire looked to Michelle to finish her sentence, "please go talk to her dickhead". Claire agreed before chiming in, "so we can help her".

He found Erin in the smoking area, dabbing a tissue to her eye, softly sobbing. His heart began to break; her usual bubbly, confident personality he adored seemed to go grey and disintegrate in front of his eyes. "Ohh, it's you" She seemed panicked to be caught in the act of crying. James had her sit on the wall of the smoking area beside him. After several dumb little jokes of his, she began to open up, her tears falling quickly down her cheeks with every word.

After describing her actual experiences in Dublin, she rested her head on James' shoulder, giving him one final sentiment to ponder on. "I'm never going to be able to go back to my old life, but I'm so unhappy in my new one James." she continued. "I love my course, but if I didn't have that going for me, I definitely would have dropped out by now. I don't know how to make it better." Several long, poignant moments passed before James cocked his head sideways so as to catch her eye.

"You're Erin fucking Quinn", he declared, and she let out a giggle. "What's my name got to do with any of this?" she let out a soft sigh. He grasped her hand, "You're a force to be reckoned with. Anyone would be so lucky to have you as a friend. Despite what some of your past antics might suggest, you're fiercely loyal, and you have the most electric personality." she felt her heart pang at his kind words. "Really?" her eyes eager for a sign of approval from him. "Really, Erin, you're such a special person" he wrapped his arms around her shoulders. Erin couldn't help herself as she smelled his soothing aftershave and cuddled into him. She felt so lucky to have the friends she did and would never let them go. It didn't matter if she made any more. Erin had her friends for life right here in Derry.


December 25th 1998

Erin couldn't quite believe her eyes when she opened the small brown envelope on the Christmas tree on December 25th. A season train ticket for January to May was Enclosed from Dublin Connolly Station to Great Victoria Street Station, Belfast, with a small note.

"Erin, please make sure you use this at every opportunity. Orla has promised to make up her second bunk bed just for you. We cannot wait for you to come to Belfast. Love from Claire, Michelle, Orla and James."

Chapter Text

31st December 1998.

 

It’s a funny thing, jealousy, something Erin’s never really felt before, not until now anyway. But the dread in her stomach, the pain it sets in her heart, as she watches James dance with someone who’s not her, she’s sure this is jealousy and it makes her want to boke.  

It’s just Aishling, she tries to tell herself as they dance together, one pair of hands clasped while the others rest on each other’s waists. James has made no indication that he likes Aishling, has never made any comment that has made Erin think they’re anything but old school friends and surely her best friend would tell her if he had a thing for Aishling? But as she thinks back over their friendship, who the other fancied isn’t something that’s made it into their weekly letters, it isn’t something they’ve really spoken about since that morning in Donegal nearly 14 months ago.  

She tries to push the jealousy away, she has no claim over James, she knows jealousy is an ugly emotion and she doesn’t want it to enter her friendship with James.  

Erin watches as James says something with a grin, making Aishling laugh and suddenly she thinks that maybe this isn’t jealousy, but envy instead, because she wants to be the one in James’s arms, she wants what Aishling has, to be held close by James.  

Whatever this is, envy, jealousy, or just stupidity, she doesn’t like it.  

“That could be you.”  

Erin is startled at the voice that appears beside her.  

“What?” Erin asks, turning to find her other best friend and James' cousin, giving her a look Erin doesn’t quite know the meaning of.  

“That could be you,” Michelle repeats, nodding her head towards James and Aishling dancing. “If you just coped onto yourself.”  

Erin laughs but it sounds fake even to her own ears. Michelle is going to see straight through it. “You think I want to dance with Aishling?” She tries to deflect with an obvious joke.  

Michelle rolls her eyes. “Don’t be thick Erin, you know I meant James.”  

“Don’t call me thick.”  

“Well, you are being thick, clearly for some reason god only knows you fancy him, so just go ask him out, or better yet just kiss him at midnight and be done with it.”  

She’s not going to tell Michelle the number of times she’s imagined kissing James at midnight, or just kissing him in general, that’s been something she’s thought about for a long time.  

“When did you come around to the idea of me and James? I thought this would ruin your life?” Erin grumbles.  

“I don’t think anything will fuck up our group after the year we’ve had. And when it's so fucking clear to everyone and their ma that you’re obsessed with each other I decided, I better get used to the idea.” Erin grinned at Michelles’ response, she really did love James, he was her best friend in the whole world.  

“Look, kiss him or don’t, just quit pining after him like a little fridget fuck at the side of the dancefloor” Michelle ducks forward and presses a quick kiss to Erin’s forehead smiling. “Think about what I said, maybe giving it a go with the English prick wouldn’t be the end of the world. I’m going to get myself another vodka.”  

Erin watches as Michelle vanishes into the crowd at Jenny Joyces’. She thinks about getting herself her own drink from Jennys kitchen but doesn’t really feel like being around people. Instead, she turns around and heads out to the garden, the cool Derry air puts most people off heading outside and she’s glad to find herself alone.  


The stillness of the air is beautiful at this time of night, the stars above her head sparkled. She can hear the sounds of Derry drift up from the streets around the house, people celebrating as 1999 draws near. Erin takes a deep breath, peace washing over her as the cool air settles in her chest and she pushes all other thoughts from her mind.  

If James could be happy with Aishling, then she’ll support him wholeheartedly. James’s happiness, that’s all that matters. She’d go back to Dublin and be his little PenPal again, that wouldn't be an issue.  

“What are you doing out here all alone?”  

Erin is startled at the voice behind her, she really needs to start paying more attention to her surroundings. She looks back to find Claire standing in the doorway.  

“Did Michelle send you?” Erin asks, turning back to look at the view as Claire approaches her side.  

“Maybe.”  

“Are you here to tell me I should stop being a ninny and ask James out as well?”  

Claire laughs. “No, I assume Michelle already covered that.”  

Erin smiles. “Michelle is pretty upfront with what she’s thinking.”  

“Well, we all knew that already.” Claire’s smile softens. “I’m not here to tell you to do anything, I’m just here to tell you something.”  

Claire pauses and Erin waits. Is she here to tell her something about Aishling and James? Because she’s not sure she’s ready to hear about that, she needs to be a little bit less in love with him before she hears something like that.  

“James likes you, anyone with eyes can see and-“  

“He doesn’t, I left it too late with us” Erin cuts in because she can’t let herself think that, not even for a second, she can’t let herself entertain the hope that James may still like her back because when it turns out not to be true, it’d hurt her just that little bit more.  

“Yes, he does,” Claire continues, seemingly undeterred by the interruption. “You know how you always complain about your ma and da ‘making eyes' at each other?”  

Erin nods, confused by the sudden change in conversation. She knows exactly what Claire is talking about and she may complain about it, but she secretly thinks it’s cute, how in love her parents are, it’s seen clear as day with how they look at each other.  

“That’s the way James looks at you, like he’s in love with you. Everyone can see it but you apparently so I’m telling you so you can see it too.”  

“He’s not-“Erin tries again because that can’t be true, Erin would’ve noticed if her best friend still fancied her after all this time.  

A voice in the back of Erin’s head wonders if James knows about her feelings for him.  

“Trust me Erin, he is,” Claire says, and Erin can hear how much she means the words. At least Claire believes it’s true, Erin’s not sure if she believes it though. “So, you should tell him how you feel too.”  

“I thought you weren’t going to tell me what to do?  

Claire laughs. “Take it as a suggestion then.”  

Erin rolls her eyes at the blonde.  

“Do you want another suggestion?”  

“Not really if I'm honest Claire.”  

“It’s almost 12 o’clock, just kiss him.” Claire and Michelle are just as bad as each other. She needed to talk to Orla, Orla would never suggest that she should kiss James.  

“I’m not going to kiss- “Erin cuts herself off when she hears movement behind her and turns to find James standing in the doorway. She thanked our lady in heaven that she’d been paying more attention to her surroundings because she didn’t want James to hear how the rest of the sentence was going to go, especially since her next words were going to be “my best friend”. That would’ve been really hard to explain.  

Claire gives her a knowing look as she takes a step back. “I’m going to go try and find someone to shift before Midnight.” She grins. “You two have fun.”  

Claire vanishes back inside before Erin can protest that there’s going to be no “fun” had out here.  

“Who are you not going to kiss?”  


Erin turns back to focus on James once more, her heart kicking up a notch when she takes in James’s appearance again, he was wearing a soft blue button-down shirt, his cosy denim jacket and his Levi’s. It had stopped her breathing when he’d picked her up earlier and it stops it now, there’s no doubt the boy in front of her is the most beautiful person she’s ever seen, he’s so much more than John-Paul O’ Reilly or David Donnelly combined.  

Everything with Aishling before is forgotten, that doesn’t matter, if James likes Aishling then so be it, all that matters is that James is happy and the way he’s smiling as he stands in front of her now, Erin can tell that he is.  

“Ahh no one,” Erin manages to get out after a moment when James’s eyebrow raises and she realises she hasn’t answered his question.  

Erin watches as the smile slips to something else as James steps out into the garden to greet her. Erin for the life of her can’t figure out what it means.  

“What are you doing out here?” James asks, taking up Claire’s position beside her at the gazebo. He looks so handsome in this light, his features soft in the glow from the party that’s still in full swing inside.  

Erin shrugs, turning out to look at the view in front of her. “I just needed a moment, I wanted to be alone.”  

“Oh I- “James takes a step back, signalling back to the party. “I can go if you’d rather be alone.”  

“No.” Erin’s hand shoots out to rest on the warm skin of James’s hand. “You don’t count.”  

James raises that damn eyebrow again and it’s very distracting. “I don’t count?”  

“No, I- “Erin opens and closes her mouth a few times before she can think of how to respond. “I want you to stay, even though I came out here to be alone I…” She trails off into a ramble, cheeks going red. “I don’t know how to explain this exactly but being with you feels like being alone sometimes. Not in a bad way,” she hurries to explain, she’s really not doing a good job of this. “I just mean I’m so comfortable with you, I can just be myself with you, that I don’t feel pressure to do anything or say anything like I do when I’m with other people. With you, I can just be me.” She bites her lip. “Does that make sense?”  

James smiles with a nod, he can hear how her heart rate has sped up. “It makes perfect sense. Does that mean you don’t want me to go?”  

Erin soothes her thumb over the skin she’s still touching, the move almost unconscious. “I never want you to leave when you’re with me.” Erin feels goosebumps erupt looking into his eyes. “Shit Erin, you must be cold. Here.” James shrugs himself out of his denim jacket. “Take this.” He doesn’t wait for Erin to respond as he wraps the jacket around Erins’ shoulders. “Better?”  

Erin slips her arms into the jacket and pulls it tight around herself. All James can think about is how cute she looks.  

“Thank you,” Erin says as she snuggles further into the jacket. She smiles, her dimples making an appearance as her eyes turn soft, crinkling at the sides. James’ looking at her like-  

“Oh.”  

Erin feels like she’s been hit by a bus.  That’s the look that Claire was talking about, the one she’s seen on her Mammy and Daddy's faces, the one she knows has crossed her own face too when James does something particularly endearing and she can’t help but fall a little bit more in love with him.  

But James’s looking at her like that right now, giving her a look that Erin thought was impossible. The same look she saw in the house in Donegal last October. She hadn’t believed Claire’s words but just maybe she was telling the truth.  

“James, do you love me?”  

The words fall out of her mouth before she can really think them through before she can really think about the fact that she’s accusing her best friend of being in love with her.  

She sees the fear flash through James’s eyes for a moment and hears the way his heart skips a beat.  

“Of course, I love you you’re my best friend,” James says but Erin can tell he’s deflecting, tell his smile is tinged with fear now.  

How had she missed this before?  

“I love you too,” Erin smiles. "You're my best friend". She reaches out and takes James’s hand again, threads their fingers together, new confidence coming over her. James glances down, his eyes full of curiosity when he looks up again. “But that’s not what I really mean,” Erin exclaimed. James’s mouth drops open and Erin gives his hand a squeeze. “And I don’t expect a reply, but I want you to know that I don’t want to wait anymore.” She pauses, gathering courage from Claire’s and Michelle’s words. She looks into James’s eyes, eyes that are so bright and green, eyes that fill her with warmth and make her lonely days in university so much better and she lets the words free that she’s held in for so long. “I’m in love with you.”  

James gasps, his eyes widening. He’d been waiting for this moment for years and he could barely breathe.  

It takes a moment before James’s surprised face slips into a wide grin, so bright that Erin doesn’t ever want to look away. “I’m in love with you too.”  

The words settle in Erin’s chest like it’s something she’s been waiting to hear her whole life. She thinks maybe she has been waiting her whole life for James, waiting for the “wee English fella”. Erin laughs, the sound bubbling out of her because she’s just so  happy .  

“Aishling was telling me earlier when we were dancing that I need to just ask you out or to just kiss you since 12 is closing in fast.”  

Erin laughs again, feeling stupid now as she thinks back to how she’d felt while watching Aishling and James dance. “Michelle and Claire have been telling me the same thing all night. You walked out here while Claire was telling me to kiss you at 12.”  

“You said you weren’t going to kiss anyone.” As the words leave James’s lips, his cheeks are bright red. “Have recent revelations changed your mind?”  

Despite the cold outside, she feels warm at James’s words.  

James wants to kiss her too.  

Erin smiles. “Maybe.”  

TEN 

A shout comes through the open doors, she hadn’t realised it was so close to midnight. She watches as James’s eyes glance down at her lips.  

Now she feels like she’s on fire.  

NINE 

Erin glances down at James’s lips, looking so soft that Erin aches with the need to kiss them.  

EIGHT 

Time seems to slow down. Why are ten seconds taking so bloody long?  

“Are we really going to wait until midnight?”  

Erin laughs, feeling so light she may just float away, if not for the fact that James’s hand is still warm in hers.  

SEVEN 

“No, we've been waiting long enough” Erin grins before her free hand cups James’s cheek and she follows the advice that had been given to her earlier.  

They kiss through the new year as shouts ring out around them, but Erin doesn’t care, not as warm lips move softly over her own, filled with the promise of a future together that Erin had only dreamt about before.  

 

Chapter Text

It’s a mild morning in Derry, and 20-year-old James Maguire is drying the plates from last night’s festivities at the kitchen sink. Claire, Orla, Michelle, Erin and himself were rarely in Derry at the same time these days so as soon as Claire flew home from her summer abroad Michelle immediately organised a few drinks and a takeaway in the Mallon Garden.

He didn’t usually wake up before Erin, who was almost always spending the night in the Mallon household this summer. Erin usually woke him with a mug of coffee and her warm smile first thing in the morning.

But this morning is different, he had a very restless night. He’s just a week out from his 21st birthday, and while he’d never enjoyed any of his birthdays, this was a milestone one, he would be a true adult in the eyes of society, no longer in the fun transitional stage after his eighteenth. What he feels, is not as straightforward as anxiety, or sadness — those, throughout the years, have become rather easy to identify. This is a longing, a yearning, for something he can’t even name, but it tugs at his heart.

“Love, you’ve dried that same plate three times since I’ve been standing here,” Erin says, startling her boyfriend.

“Christ, Erin, you nearly gave me a heart attack, I’m surprised I didn’t drop it” James replies with a sheepish grin.

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first thing broke on this floor in the past 24 hours, remember Orla trying to carry five bottles of Coors at once? Erin mentions while giggling, slowly sweeping up behind James and wrapping her arms around his waist and noting the silence where usually he would interject a smart comment.

Erin moves one of James’ curls behind his ear, now sliding her hand to his shoulder, guiding him from behind to turn around to face her.

“What’s wrong love?” Erin asks, eyes genuinely filled with worry and care.

“I was thinking about my birthday,” he says quietly, losing eye contact. Ashamed to be thinking and worrying about something so mundane.

“My birthday, it’s—“ 

“Next week, I know, you don’t have to remind me. It’s one of my favourite days of the year.”  

“Really?” James asks. A sparkle in his eye alerts Erin that she needs to tread lightly with her next words, not sure what emotion is causing those green eyes she loves so dearly to gloss over with unshed tears.  

“Of course. Sure, this will be like the fifth one we’ve spent together,” she replies, running her hand across James’s cheek down to his chin, lifting it up to meet his eyes once more. “And our second one as boyfriend-girlfriend…”  

James’s eyes suddenly roll to the ceiling, blinking back tears. Erin, eyebrows furrowed, pulls him in for a tight hug, though she’s still uncertain of where exactly the comfort should be directed. Stroking his back, Erin tries to hold out for James to speak first, and while she could hold him this way for a long time, under any other circumstances, it’s the unease of this moment that makes it hard to stand still.   

“James, did I say something wrong? I, you’re really starting to worry me.”  

“No, no, you’re perfect, you are,” James replies, wiping his eyes. “Can we make some coffee first, while I try and say this right?”  

“Of course,” Erin says, kissing his cheek. “Why don’t you grab us our jackets and we’ll sit outside in case the others wake up.”   

This earns her a soft, half-smile, and Erin swears her heart grows three sizes, every time.  His smile always did that to her.


Erin steps outside and closes the back door carefully hoping not to wake the other girls who were passed out in Michelle’s room after last night’s one or two drinks turned into a full-on session. James is already sitting, mindlessly stirring the coffee. Erin sits next to him angling her body in the wooden garden seat to face him for the conversation.

James hands her the mug and Erin holds his other hand to comfort him, hoping her touch might ground him.

“Look, it’s really no big deal,” James starts. 

“If it’s causing you to be upset love, it’s a big deal to me,” Erin interjects.   

James’s eyes grow wide, and he almost feels like the wind has been knocked out of him, even as he sits, he knows if he doesn’t begin now, he’ll wave it off entirely.  

“Do you remember when we finished secondary school? And my mum never said a word? No phone call or letter? Nothing, Michelle got me so drunk that night I convinced myself I didn’t want anything from my mum ever again?”

Erin nods, confusion etched onto her face.

“It’s kind of like that feeling again of knowing she doesn’t care, I haven’t spoken to my mum in nearly two years. She doesn’t even know I have a girlfriend. I’m about to hit this big milestone birthday and she probably won’t bother to do anything for it. It just, makes me think about everything she’s missed in my life”

It breaks Erin’s heart, really, to see how small this makes James feel, but she knows if she shows her own pain, her boyfriend will readjust his focus to making sure Erin is alright, shrugging off the weight of his own hurt in the process.  

Erin does her best to remain stoic, and James continues, looking off into the distance now instead.   

“I’ve never had a birthday party growing up, my mum always forgot, and my stepdad was always working, maybe they knew and didn’t care enough to acknowledge it, which, fine by me, I didn’t know any differently,” he says, starting to laugh awkwardly, but swiftly switching gears to clear his throat. He's unsure of what to do with himself, and it fills the air around them.  

“Hey, you don’t have to talk about it like it’s all alright, I know that must have hurt you — that it still hurts you.”  

“Thank you, I appreciate it.” James intertwines their hands and takes a deep breath, determined to just spit it out already.  

“I think I’ve spent too much of my life caring about my mum, I’ve always told myself that she cared in her own way. I’ve told myself I can live without a real family, but I want a family Erin, I want her to care about me.”

Erin is listening so attentively, with such care, James feels like he’s been left out on a surgical table, every wound fresh. 

 “But then I think to myself, what good would it do, to want a proper family? To let myself want a day surrounded by people who are mine, my mum, when I know she wouldn’t show. And so...I'm struggling. I'm struggling with the fact that I am turning 21 in a week, and I don’t have this figured out. I'm struggling with the fact that I have somehow managed to have someone as incredible as you in my life and here I am, just listen to me, asking for something more. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“If you ask me, you’re just in time,” Erin says, taking one of James’s hands between both of hers. “There is no right way to grieve the what-ifs. Every big occasion is a slap in the face reminder of what you could’ve had but didn’t. And I know it only makes you wonder who you could’ve been, what you could’ve done, how much more protected you would’ve felt if you had only had that, too. But I’m telling you when I look at you, there’s not a single thing I’d change James.” 

As a child, James always wanted to be a good son, he hated the idea of letting his mother down, but now, with Erin watching him he realized perhaps it wasn’t him who was the problem. Maybe, the girls and Erin were the real family he always wanted.

“So, love, what would you like to do next week then?”  

“Oh, let’s just spend the day together. If the others are around we could head for a drink in the evening or something.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Erin says grinning. “I’ll be right here”


It is the morning of his 21st birthday when James wakes up to Erin humming softly, a small queen cake with a single candle casting the softest amber glow on her face. It’s the most beautiful thing James’s ever seen, and suddenly he feels like taking back every word of what he said outside a week ago. Everything he’s ever truly wanted for his birthdays — that’s right here in front of him. 

“Make a wish, love,” their lips meet immediately after the last syllable is uttered.  

Their plans for the rest of the day are up in the air, all James knows is they’re having dinner later than usual, closer to 8 p.m., because Erin is insistent, they go on a sunset walk in the town at exactly 6:30 pm.

James goes to work at the swimming pool and Erin to the bookshop, they meet Orla and Claire for lunch on their break and then walk home together after their working day is finished.

They don’t talk much on their walk that evening, resting in the easy silence but after a few minutes, James grows concerned at the way Erin seems preoccupied. 

“I, I don’t want to ruin the mood or anything, but I feel like I need to make sure I didn’t hurt your feelings last week. You know all that stuff I said has nothing to do with you, right? I could spend every waking moment of my life with you and be completely satisfied. I was just really worked up in the heat of the moment about my mum not caring, and I’m so grateful you listened to me bang on about it anyway.” 

“I know, love, I do. I’m fine, really. I was just thinking about how mental work was today. That’s all.” 

After sunset, they walk back to the Mallon household hand in hand.

“So, you never told me what we’re having for dinner…?” James asks.

“You’ll have to wait and see, we’re almost there.”   

“What does that even mean? If we're getting a takeaway, we probably should have just picked it up there while we were in town?”  

“You’re going to make these next few minutes very difficult for me, aren’t you?” Erin asks, with a hint of something extra, almost devious, in her voice that James can’t quite pinpoint. Until he opens the door.   

He’s so dumbfounded he can’t even decide how to react. Part of him is on the verge of tears, happy tears, but the other part wants to run the other way, afraid it will all disappear if he looks too closely. Like maybe he’s dreaming.   

“Happy Birthday, Son,” Mary Quinn says hugging him. “Surprise James!” Gerry echoes behind her.

He’s standing in the midst of all of his favourite people: Michelle, Claire, Orla, Mary, Gerry, Sarah, Joe, Anna, Deirdre, Martin, Niall, his Uni friends, Paul, Alan, and Saoirse.

James, after the initial shock wears off, begins to greet everyone one by one, and Erin watches with an overwhelming sense of pride as James's expressions begin to soften from confusion to gratitude — that these people, every one of them, are here for him. 

As everyone begins to eat and talk amongst themselves, James quietly pulls Erin outside.  


“I can’t believe you did this for me,” he starts, his eyes beaming with pride.

“I think you’d find I do just about anything for you, James Maguire” and Erin can’t help but feel the tears make their way to her eyes, too. To bring this man any kind of joy is the thing she remains most proud of.  

“Why..I mean…how…Erin, how did you even do this?”   

“I couldn’t stop thinking about what you told me, the other morning out here. And I remember all of it, but what kept me up that night was when you said it was unrealistic to want a day surrounded by people who are just here for you. But you were wrong about that.” Erin grinned “my whole family adores you, even Granda and he hates everyone!”

Erin can see James needs to sit down, so she brings him to the patio chair and sits on his lap, “I need to remind you, right now, so you let yourself enjoy this, that your mum can’t hurt you anymore, You don’t need her, don’t you see that today? We can throw our own parties full of everyone you know, the ones who do love you, almost as much as I do. We don’t have to invite her, not here — not anywhere. And you never, ever have to be sorry for that, for excluding the people who never showed you love, for leaving and growing up and doing this on your own when they gave you no other choice. We always, always have unlimited opportunities to create our own families, ones that will show us love no matter what.”  

“You are mine, Erin, my family.”  

He ended the conversation by leaning in and kissing her lips firmly, he’d never ever been this happy on his birthday before.

Chapter Text

Technically, they are supposed to be getting breakfast for the whole crew.

No one else wanted to get up at Erin's designated 'fit as much into the day as possible' time, so James decides that if they don't want to get up, that's fine by him and he gets to spend some quality time with his girlfriend.

They are supposed to be going to the local shop and then making breakfast for everyone, and then hoping everyone is awake and ready to go to the beach. It's their last study week before university ends for four of them. Erin could almost taste the summer holidays, freedom from university, she'd begun spending all of her study weeks in Belfast with James, and for this week they decided to all club together money made at their part-time jobs and rented out a small holiday home in Killybegs, Co. Donegal.

But they still haven't made it to the grocery store. James accidentally took a wrong turn, and Erin couldn't make sense of the map in her hands and then somehow, they ended up in Donegal Town and decided to walk around for a bit.

"I'm a creative James; I don't work well with maps and numbers and stuff!" She looked at him, and he wore an amused grin. "Ohh, shut up, you", She retorted. "I didn't say anything!" He laughed back and pulled the car into a space.

She jumped out of the car, and James tossed his arm around her shoulder. After three years together, it felt so comfortable walking like that. Erin drags him into the nearest shop which just so happens to be a strange-looking charity shop, or maybe it belonged to a vintage seller? Either way, the smell of the older items hit James' nose immediately.

"We just need directions, and then we can get back on the road, love," James says

"What if we looked around for a bit. The others will probably be sleeping all morning anyway, and there are some cool camera bits and bobs over there." Erin mentions.

"You sure?" Erin nods, happy to potter around and maybe find some treasures to write about in her stories.

She lets herself wander away from him as he snaps pictures on his camera, stopping to admire the old silverware and baking pans that she finds hidden in the corner. She can hear James chatting with the owner, and he sounds like such an adult. They are graduating soon and being thrust into the real world. She's not worried about James. He's the type of person who can make friends with anyone instantly like he is with the owner right now. She's less adaptable at fitting into places like he is, but according to her Da, she's a hard worker and if anyone could make it in the real world, it's her. Erin wanders along, listening to James's voice fade as she's swept into the next section, not paying much mind to where she's going until her eyes fall on a jewellery box.

She stops, drawn to the box, the delicate antique pieces glittering in the early morning light. She can still hear James talking about his amateur filmmaking and how he would love to learn more about a vintage camera he found, and she reaches out to the box without knowing what she's reaching for.

Someone somewhere at some point in time loved this box. Each piece is carefully placed in its own section, all polished and glimmering, each holding a lifetime of stories.

Her hand skates over a silver bracelet, and a gold hooped necklace, and then she falters, stopping at a small emerald inlaid in a gold ring.

It reminds her of a ring her mother had, one that Erin would sneak into her parents room to admire when she was little, one that had somehow been lost in the resulting time. Erin gently removes it from its spot in the box and slips it onto her right ring finger.

"Perfect fit."

She didn't realize that James had gone quiet and snuck up behind her, hooking his chin over her shoulder.

"It's beautiful." She tilts it in the sunlight, and James's arm snakes out so he can take her hand and slide the ring off.

"Yeah, but I think I'd like it more on this hand." He slips it over the ring finger on her left hand, and Erin almost forgets how to breathe.

"James."

"Erin."

"You are not proposing marriage to me before we even graduate."

He laughs, warm breath falling over her shoulder and sending goosebumps down her arms. "No, god, your mum would kill me, well if not her, then Joe definitely would." He presses a quick kiss on her cheek, his hand cradling hers. "No, I'm just bringing up the topic. For the future. Once we get our collective shit together and can live in the same place and have enough money to survive like real adults."

It's the first time either of them had really brought up the idea of after. After college, and after they get jobs, and after they hopefully move in together, and after everything settles down. She's always seen her future with James, but this is the first she's ever really thought about it. About marrying him one day. About having him forever.

"I'd like that." She twists her head until she can grab his face and pull his mouth onto hers. He's smiling, and she can feel the warmth in his cheeks under her fingertips, and her heart is beating so fast she's pretty sure he can hear it.

When she pulls back to breathe he presses another kiss into her hair. She goes to slip off the ring, but James snaps his hands around hers.

"What do you think you are doing?"

"Putting the ring back before we break it."

He shakes his head. "No way. That's yours, and it's ours. Like a promise."

"James Maguire, I will not allow you to spend your money on this."

"Too bad." He pecks her lips, distracting her long enough to slip the ring off himself, and the next moment, he is marching off through the maze of things, leaving her in front of the jewellery box.

"James, wait!" she calls, but he's already gone, and then the next moment she can hear him talking to the owner again.

"I'd like to purchase this ring, please."

Her heart stutters to a more reasonable rhythm, and she stares at the place in the box where she found the ring.

It's peculiar because everything in the box was so lovingly placed, and everything had its own spot. But she can't seem to find where the emerald ring went. The box still looks completely full, like nothing was removed.

Erin shakes her head and turns around, following James's voice to find her way through all the things. The instant he sees her, his face lights up, and the woman behind the till smiles at them.

"So this is the lucky girl, huh?"

James shakes his head and drops his around and her shoulders. "Yeah, this is my Erin, but I'm definitely the lucky one here."

The woman holds out the ring and sighs, a smile on her face. "That was my great aunt Annie's ring. She always told me it was meant for someone special and that it would find the person it was supposed to be with." She places it in James's hand and pats his palm. "I'm glad it found the two of you."

The woman instantly goes back to ringing them up and chatting about James's love for cameras, and Erin can't seem to find the words she needs to say thank you.


Before she knows it, they're back in the car and singing along to the radio as they retrace their journey back to the bungalow on the beach. As soon as they land back at the beach house. James jogs over to her, takes her hand and they walk down to the shore instead of heading into the house to wake the others.

"Erin Quinn. With this ring," he says, falling to one knee, and taking her hand in his. "I promise that once we graduate and start to figure life out, I will propose to you properly and if you want, you can become Erin Quinn-Maguire."

"Ohh I'll be like a famous person with the double-barrel name!"

He bites his cheek trying to hide his smile, and she dramatically flicks out her hand. If he insists on doing this, she might as well play along.

"So, we're engaged to be engaged then, love?" she asks.

"Exactly." He breaks into that beaming smile, and then she's pulling him up until she can kiss him.

He slides the ring on her finger again and it instantly feels like it was always supposed to be there.

And maybe, that's because it was.

"What the fuck is going on here then!?" Well, it wouldn't be a trip to Donegal without Michelle interrupting a significant moment of theirs, would it?

 

Chapter Text

She paced back and forth in her childhood bedroom, unable to sit still. Erin was gripping her hands tightly on the end of her bed as panic was slowly setting in, a panic that had slowly crept up on her and grown in scale over the past few days. At first, she had simply dismissed it, saying there was nothing to worry about, but as the days kept passing, the gravity of the situation was slowly making itself known to her.  

She couldn’t keep it off any longer or live in denial. She swore to herself once more as she thought about it. It was still early, and she could still be wrong, she prayed to Jesus and Mary too that she was wrong , but there was no way to know yet. Well, there was, but being back in Derry for the summer meant she couldn’t just rock into Boots and buy a test, sure the whole county would know by evening.  

She couldn’t postpone this any longer, no matter how much she wanted to simply ignore the terrifying possibility. She needed to face the possible consequences of her own actions, as absolutely terrifying as they were.  

As she kept pacing back and forth, she suddenly froze up as she heard the familiar sound of the doorbell. It was James, clearly, it always was. By some miracle, she was currently the only one home, with her Ma and Anna down at the town square, and James was the only person that was expected to come by the house today. He always did, during his lunch break. He’d gotten a photography job with the Derry Journal after finishing college back in May.  

Erin took a deep breath as she exited her room and walked down the stairs, trying to mentally prepare herself. Her boyfriend was the last person she wanted to talk to right now, but she knew that he needed to know before anyone else found out. If it was like she feared, he would be just as affected as her.  

As she opened the door, James immediately smiled and embraced her in his arms and pressed a kiss on her hair. Instead of returning the favour, she stood there slightly tense, her mind filled with the fear of a possible negative reaction to what she was about to tell him. What if he left her?  

James immediately seemed to notice that something was off with her when she said “Hello” with a shaky voice that was barely above a whisper.  

 
“Erin babe, is everything okay?” 

She slowly shakes her head and grabs his hand.  

“Can we go up to my room, we really need to talk.”  

She sees how James immediately tenses up, and she quickly looks away to not see the look in his eyes. She’s trying to take deep breaths as she’s dragging him up the stairs and into her room, and the moment she closes the doors she tries to speak.  

“Okay, I don’t know where to start…”  

“It’s fine if you’re breaking up with me, I understand that not all relationships can last forever but I still love you and I still want to be frie…”  

“James don’t be an idiot I’m not breaking up with you for Christ's sake.”  

“Wait, you’re not? Then why all the panic and shaking? You really need to give me at least two weeks' notice if you're going to break up with me Erin”  

Erin sees how he visibly relaxes at her words. She’s still tense though because she still hasn’t told him.  

“Of course, I'm not breaking up with you, I never want to do that.”  

“Ah, I just assumed… since you said it was serious.”  

“Look, love, I promise, I’m not breaking up with you, But I have something to tell you that is extremely serious and if it’s true we’re in so much trouble and I’m freaking out.”  

James takes Erin’s hands in his own to show his support, and he nods at her.  

“I’m listening.”  

Erin takes another deep breath, her mind screaming at her from within. Here it goes.  

“I-I… haven’t gotten my ahh period thing... you know.”  

She’s waiting for him to connect the dots, and after a few seconds, she sees how his face pales. Afterwards, he curses.  

“Shit, Are you sure?”  

“Of course, I’m sure I haven’t gotten it, I would have noticed if I was bleeding James!”  

James hits himself in the face as he curses at himself.  

“Sorry, I’m a bit stupid. That’s a very weird way to phrase that question, of course, you’d know if you were bleeding or not. I mean, are you sure that you’re…?”  

“Pregnant?” she asks, and she shivers as she hears the words coming out of her mouth for the first time. It was her worst fear at this very moment, her and James weren’t married, and she’d just handed in her thesis, she was applying for internships in different countries, a baby was not part of the plan, it wasn’t a part of either of their plans. “Not yet, but I think I might be. At first, I didn’t think about it when I was a day late, that happens sometimes. But then one day turned into two and now it’s been a week and a half since I was supposed to get it, so you know there may be a good possibility.” 

If James’s face wasn’t already pale before, now it looked like that of a ghost. The timing would be just right when thinking of the last time they’d gotten a chance to be together, when they were packing up his house in Belfast, and he seemed to realize it too as he counted down the days with his fingers.  

“Jesus, we’re so fucked Erin”  

He looks at her, and Erin sees the pure panic in his eyes as the gravity of the situation was setting in. It wasn’t set in stone yet, it was probably too early to know for sure, but the possibility was there, and that was terrifying. She didn’t even want to think of what would happen if she was indeed pregnant and they would have to tell her mam. They would both be killed.  

“That’s what I’m saying. What are we going to do?”  

“I’ve already accepted my death at the hands of your grandad, Erin. I’ve had a great life, I love you.”  

“I’m not going to let you simply go die on me and leave me alone during a time like this. This is all your fault, all of it.”  

She sees how he raises an eyebrow at her, and grins cheekily and her face reddens as she reads his expression.  

“Really Erin? Really? You’re always the one that insists that I…”  

He doesn’t finish the sentence because there’s no need, and Erin can’t look him in the eyes. She knows he’s right. If this was anyone’s fault, it was hers. She was always the risk taker, the one saying that everything would be fine, and nothing would happen, and she was always the one to tell him to not do the safe option because she liked it even when he told her it was risky .  

She wanted to scream at her stupid, reckless self. When thinking about it, it was actually a miracle it had taken this long into their relationship to occur for the first time when she had insisted on being this reckless from the very start. She just never assumed it would happen to her, innocent girls like her didn’t get pregnant so young.  

She wanted to go back in time and smack some sense into her younger self. But she couldn’t so instead she let out another sigh as she looked down onto the floor.  

“I’m really scared James…” she then says, barely above a whisper. “I don’t know what to do.”  

James’s grip around her hands tightens, and she looks up at him. She still sees the fear in his eyes, but she sees the care too, and all she wants to do is to embrace him and cry out all of her emotions into his shoulder.  

 
“I don’t know what to do either, and I’m scared too,” he replies. “Who wouldn’t be? But I'll stick by your side through all of this. Pregnancy or not, you won’t have to do this alone. Never. Right? We’ll figure this out together, okay?” 

She nods. There’s still an extreme amount of fear in her as she’s thinking of her uncertain future, but she’s grateful that she knows James will be there through it no matter how things turn out. He wouldn’t leave her alone to face the possible consequences herself, they would do it together.  

They had talked about children before, several times. Children had always been something that Erin knew she wanted in her life, and James felt the same. They picked out their favourite baby names. One day they wanted to start a family together, but that was when they were older, in good careers, married, settled and ready. Now was not the ideal time, when neither had even turned twenty-two, they were young .  

“My Ma is going to kill you.”  

“I’m well aware of that already, but not even her wrath against me will stop me from helping you through this. I love you and will always be by your side, and if we end up having a baby I will make sure to be a good father to them. No child of mine will have what I had, I swear it, Erin.”  

Erin hugs him tighter than she ever has before.  

“You’re a good man, James.”  

At that moment she feels safe. Yes, the situation was terrifying and uncertain, and they had no idea how the future would turn out at that moment, but it was okay. Together it felt like they could get through everything, even the eventual gossip that would spread or the absolute anger and disappointment from her mam and Granda that might await them. With James by her side, Erin knew she could do it.  


 
Thankfully, Erin would never have to tell her mother or her Grandad about this. 

A few days passed, days that were filled with anxiety as she and James waited for an answer, for a sign on whatever it was, and then it happened. Like a gift sent from the angels above, relief flooded through her as she ended up crying tears of joy. All of the anxiety she had built up without realizing it disappeared after a second, and she felt the happiest she had been in years. She had never been this happy in all of her life when it came to her period. For once, she appreciated the presence of it like it was a divine sign from the Lord himself.  

Yes, one day she would want a child, but that day was not now. She wasn’t ready for that responsibility yet and she was grateful that her prayers seemed to have been answered.    

She literally got herself ready in less than five minutes and then waited patiently for James to arrive to join the Sunday family breakfast he had been invited to. The moment he arrived she grabbed him by the arm and ran up to her bedroom, looked around to make sure no one was near, and then told him.   “I got it! I got it!”  

One second passed, then another, as James seemed to process what he heard. Then she saw the exact same look of relief spread across his face that she had felt earlier that morning.  

“Thank goodness! Your Granda won’t kill me.”  

“I’ve never been this relieved in all of my life.”  

James smiled at her and nodded sheepishly thinking maybe it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, instead of saying that however he just replied, “Me neither.”  

For once, they seemed to have luck on their side  

Chapter Text

She paced back and forth in her childhood bedroom, unable to sit still. Erin was gripping her hands tightly on the end of her bed as panic was slowly setting in, a panic that had slowly crept up on her and grown in scale over the past few days. At first, she had simply dismissed it, saying there was nothing to worry about, but as the days kept passing, the gravity of the situation was slowly making itself known to her.  

She couldn’t keep it off any longer or live in denial. She swore to herself once more as she thought about it. It was still early, and she could still be wrong, she prayed to Jesus and Mary too that she was wrong , but there was no way to know yet. Well, there was, but being back in Derry for the summer meant she couldn’t just rock into boots and buy a test, sure the whole county would know by evening.  

She couldn’t postpone this any longer, no matter how much she wanted to simply ignore the terrifying possibility. She needed to face the possible consequences of her own actions, as absolutely terrifying as they were.  

As she kept pacing back and forth, she suddenly froze up as she heard the familiar sound of the doorbell. It was James, clearly, it always was. By some miracle, she was currently the only one home, with her Ma and Anna down at the town square, and James was the only person that was expected to come by the house today. He always did, during his lunch break. He’d gotten a photography job with the Derry Journal after finishing college back in May.  

Erin took a deep breath as she exited her room and walked down the stairs, trying to mentally prepare herself. Her boyfriend was the last person she wanted to talk to right now, but she knew that he needed to know before anyone else found out. If it was like she feared, he would be just as affected as her.  

As she opened the door, James immediately smiled and embraced her in his arms and pressed a kiss on her hair. Instead of returning the favour, she stood there slightly tense, her mind filled with the fear of a possible negative reaction to what she was about to tell him. What if he left her?  

James immediately seemed to notice that something was off with her when she said “Hello” with a shaky voice that was barely above a whisper.  

 
“Erin babe, is everything okay?” 

She slowly shakes her head and grabs his hand.  

“Can we go up to my room, we really need to talk.”  

She sees how James immediately tenses up, and she quickly looks away to not see the look in his eyes. She’s trying to take deep breaths as she’s dragging him up the stairs and into her room, and the moment she closes the doors she tries to speak.  

“Okay, I don’t know where to start…”  

“It’s fine if you’re breaking up with me, I understand that not all relationships can last forever but I still love you and I still want to be frie…”  

“James don’t be an idiot I’m not breaking up with you for Christ's sake.”  

“Wait, you’re not? Then why all the panic and shaking? You really need to give me at least two weeks' notice if you're going to break up with me Erin”  

Erin sees how he visibly relaxes at her words. She’s still tense though because she still hasn’t told him.  

“Of course, I'm not breaking up with you, I never want to do that.”  

“Ah, I just assumed… since you said it was serious.”  

“Look, love, I promise, I’m not breaking up with you, But I have something to tell you that is extremely serious and if it’s true we’re in so much trouble and I’m freaking out.”  

James takes Erin’s hands in his own to show his support, and he nods at her.  

“I’m listening.”  

Erin takes another deep breath, her mind screaming at her from within. Here it goes.  

“I-I… haven’t gotten my ahh period thing... you know.”  

She’s waiting for him to connect the dots, and after a few seconds, she sees how his face pales. Afterwards, he curses.  

“Shit, Are you sure?”  

“Of course, I’m sure I haven’t gotten it, I would have noticed if I was bleeding James!”  

James hits himself in the face as he curses at himself.  

“Sorry, I’m a bit stupid. That’s a very weird way to phrase that question, of course, you’d know if you were bleeding or not. I mean, are you sure that you’re…?”  

“Pregnant?” she asks, and she shivers as she hears the words coming out of her mouth for the first time. It was her worst fear at this very moment, her and James weren’t married, and she’d just handed in her thesis, she was applying for internships in different countries, a baby was not part of the plan, it wasn’t a part of either of their plans. “Not yet, but I think I might be. At first, I didn’t think about it when I was a day late, that happens sometimes. But then one day turned into two and now it’s been a week and a half since I was supposed to get it, so you know there may be a good possibility.” 

If James’s face wasn’t already pale before, now it looked like that of a ghost. The timing would be just right when thinking of the last time they’d gotten a chance to be together, when they were packing up his house in Belfast, and he seemed to realize it too as he counted down the days with his fingers.  

“Jesus, we’re so fucked Erin”  

He looks at her, and Erin sees the pure panic in his eyes as the gravity of the situation was setting in. It wasn’t set in stone yet, it was probably too early to know for sure, but the possibility was there, and that was terrifying. She didn’t even want to think of what would happen if she was indeed pregnant and they would have to tell her mam. They would both be killed.  

“That’s what I’m saying. What are we going to do?”  

“I’ve already accepted my death at the hands of your grandad, Erin. I’ve had a great life, I love you.”  

“I’m not going to let you simply go die on me and leave me alone during a time like this. This is all your fault, all of it.”  

She sees how he raises an eyebrow at her, and grins cheekily and her face reddens as she reads his expression.  

“Really Erin? Really? You’re always the one that insists that I…”  

He doesn’t finish the sentence because there’s no need, and Erin can’t look him in the eyes. She knows he’s right. If this was anyone’s fault, it was hers. She was always the risk taker, the one saying that everything would be fine, and nothing would happen, and she was always the one to tell him to not do the safe option because she liked it even when he told her it was risky .  

She wanted to scream at her stupid, reckless self. When thinking about it, it was actually a miracle it had taken this long into their relationship to occur for the first time when she had insisted on being this reckless from the very start. She just never assumed it would happen to her, innocent girls like her didn’t get pregnant so young.  

She wanted to go back in time and smack some sense into her younger self. But she couldn’t so instead she let out another sigh as she looked down onto the floor.  

“I’m really scared James…” she then says, barely above a whisper. “I don’t know what to do.”  

James’s grip around her hands tightens, and she looks up at him. She still sees the fear in his eyes, but she sees the care too, and all she wants to do is to embrace him and cry out all of her emotions into his shoulder.  

 
“I don’t know what to do either, and I’m scared too,” he replies. “Who wouldn’t be? But I'll stick by your side through all of this. Pregnancy or not, you won’t have to do this alone. Never. Right? We’ll figure this out together, okay?” 

She nods. There’s still an extreme amount of fear in her as she’s thinking of her uncertain future, but she’s grateful that she knows James will be there through it no matter how things turn out. He wouldn’t leave her alone to face the possible consequences herself, they would do it together.  

They had talked about children before, several times. Children had always been something that Erin knew she wanted in her life, and James felt the same. They picked out their favourite baby names. One day they wanted to start a family together, but that was when they were older, in good careers, married, settled and ready. Now was not the ideal time, when neither had even turned twenty-two, they were young .  

“My Ma is going to kill you.”  

“I’m well aware of that already, but not even her wrath against me will stop me from helping you through this. I love you and will always be by your side, and if we end up having a baby I will make sure to be a good father to them. No child of mine will have what I had, I swear it, Erin.”  

Erin hugs him tighter than she ever has before.  

“You’re a good man, James.”  

At that moment she feels safe. Yes, the situation was terrifying and uncertain, and they had no idea how the future would turn out at that moment, but it was okay. Together it felt like they could get through everything, even the eventual gossip that would spread or the absolute anger and disappointment from her mam and Granda that might await them. With James by her side, Erin knew she could do it.  


 
Thankfully, Erin would never have to tell her mother or her Grandad about this. 

A few days passed, days that were filled with anxiety as she and James waited for an answer, for a sign on whatever it was, and then it happened. Like a gift sent from the angels above, relief flooded through her as she ended up crying tears of joy. All of the anxiety she had built up without realizing it disappeared after a second, and she felt the happiest she had been in years. She had never been this happy in all of her life when it came to her period. For once, she appreciated the presence of it like it was a divine sign from the Lord himself.  

Yes, one day she would want a child, but that day was not now. She wasn’t ready for that responsibility yet and she was grateful that her prayers seemed to have been answered.    

She literally got herself ready in less than five minutes and then waited patiently for James to arrive to join the Sunday family breakfast he had been invited to. The moment he arrived she grabbed him by the arm and ran up to her bedroom, looked around to make sure no one was near, and then told him.   “I got it! I got it!”  

One second passed, then another, as James seemed to process what he heard. Then she saw the exact same look of relief spread across his face that she had felt earlier that morning.  

“Thank goodness! Your Granda won’t kill me.”  

“I’ve never been this relieved in all of my life.”  

James smiled at her and nodded sheepishly thinking maybe it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, instead of saying that however he just replied, “Me neither.”  

For once, they seemed to have luck on their side  

Chapter Text

“Hello?” Erin had her phone wedged between her shoulder and her ear. It’s an uncomfortable angle, but it frees up both her hands to write. Since her final exams ended, she’s been taking every opportunity to write, letting herself stay up late to work on short stories and screenplays, she barely had time to write for herself anymore.

She took a job with The Independent newspaper in Dublin following the summer and was mainly working on filler sports articles with a team of graduate students, it wasn’t very interesting work, but she loved it nevertheless and knew it would be a stepping stone to covering more rewarding pieces eventually.  

There's a groan from the other end of the phone. “Erin babe, it’s three in the morning”  

“Oh,” she says, finally looking up from the notebook to see the digital clock. “Huh, so it is.” She grinned mischievously.

“Do I get an apology then or?” James asks.  

“I’ll consider it,” Erin says now closing the notebook. She moves from her desk and settles on the couch at a more comfortable angle and properly holds the heavy phone.  

“I thought you were going to try and not let work control your entire life,” James asked amusedly.  

“I’m trying, and this actually wasn’t work stuff, it's a short story, which is actually now turning into a longer one,” Erin says defensively. “And if it all works out love you could be a kept man someday!”  

“That doesn’t really interest me, Erin, I really want you to be successful, but I like what I do too,” James says defensively.  

“Fine, we can both be successful” Erin compromises. “Big today tomorrow,”  

“Big day today love, it’s three in the morning, we’re graduating in a few hours.” James pointed out. 

“It’s not today until I wake up and I haven’t even slept yet,”  

“Are you nervous about it?” James asked.  

“Well, sure, a bit,” Erin says downplaying it. She’s actually really nervous, James by some horrible coincidence was graduating on the same day from the school of Maths and Business at Queens University Belfast so she would have to graduate without him present. Claire and Orla, who had both completed wildly different degrees, would be graduating the following day in Queens.  

Erin was attending her own graduation in Trinity the following morning; her parents, Granda, Orla and Aunt Sarah would be in attendance while Michelle and Claire decided to go to James’ so he wouldn’t be alone. “Are you nervous?” she asked biting her nails.  

“Nah, I honestly couldn’t care less, I just can’t wait for Claire and Orla’s and for us all to be together and go out for it,” he paused “I can’t wait just to see you if I'm honest”  

Erin smiled, she always imagined them together on graduation day, she wanted pictures with him in her cap and gown, pretty pictures to show their kids one day and laugh over but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be. 


It was the perfect day to graduate. Not too cold and not too warm, Erin had opted for a very simple white minidress which could barely be seen under the long black robes and white sash, which Mary had fixed a hundred times. “Ma, it’s not going to fall off, you safety pinned it sure!” Erin groaned but Mary continued fixing her. “Ach love, it’s not every day your daughter graduates from university, you have to be perfect” Her mother was very proud of her. “No pressure then Erin, eh? Just be perfect!” Her father interjected with a kind grin on his face. “By God, every minute it gets more obvious the wain got those brains o’ hers from our side of the family, doesn’t it Mary?” Granda Joe quipped.  

Christ this was going to be a long day without James.  


The Trinity atrium was filled with parents, family members and students coming to support the graduating class of 2002. Erin walked in with Orla at her side.  

“I still think you should have decorated your hat Erin, that would have been cracker” Orla complained.  

“They won’t let me, Trinity guidelines apparently,” Erin squeezed her cousin's hand. “Right, I've to head over here with my class, but you know where to go, right?”  

“Actually I take a left,” Erin smiled at her cousin, it seemed like only yesterday they had their graduation mass when leaving Mary Immaculate College in Derry and now look at them, Erin graduating from Trinity and Orla graduating from Queens the following day, who would’ve thought it.  


The ceremony itself was long and quite boring, they began with a Latin service and then the actual conferring, unfortunately with the last name like Quinn it took until the very end before she finally received the scroll in her hands conferring her as an English Literature graduate from Trinity College. Her parents, aunt and cousin clapped and cheered while Joe was simply beaming, Pride radiating from him for his eldest Granddaughter.  

After the ceremony, Mary insisted they go to the large arch in the front courtyard for pictures, nothing could have prepared her for the sight in front of the arch.  

James in his own black graduation robes with a red and blue sash, Michelle and Claire laughing with him. Was she dreaming? Or were they really here? Was he really standing in front of her?  

It was like a crash of bells in her head all at once, the emotions brought on by seeing him overwhelmed her in the best possible way, he looked up and their eyes met, he spun around and posed in his robes laughing, She couldn’t help but laugh at him and run towards him in her heels, he lifted her straight up into his arms and twirled her around, Claire snapped a quick picture with James’ camera. 

“Am I actually awake or are you really here?” she asked through happy tears.  

"Eh, Are me and Claire gone invisible or something?" Michelle queried.

“You hardly thought I’d miss my girlfriend's graduation?” He let her down and wrapped an arm around her shoulder; she leaned into him for comfort and then squeezed Michelle's hand. 

"I can't believe you're all actually here," She thought out loud looking at the three of them. Then it finally hit her.

“But Belfast? Your own graduation James? Your friends?” She furrowed her brows as she thought about everything he was giving up by being in Dublin with her.  

“The ceremony was at 10 this morning, I left straight after getting pictures with my class and we drove down that’s why I missed your ceremony, most people are waiting until tomorrow to go out anyway since it’s the last day of conferring. I really didn’t want to miss this,”  

“Your wain will never forgive you” Orla interrupted.  

“What wain?!” her mother paled.  

Joe rounded on Gerry “That English bastard has gone and gotten our girl in trouble, this is all your fault!” 

“How for Jesus's sake could this be my fault?” Gerry had turned bright red. 

“Orla what the hell!? I’m not pregnant” Erin finally interrupted.  

“But you said in your diary that you wished James was here for you to take pictures to show your wains?” Orla pointed it out innocently.  

Claire grinned and even Michelle smiled.  

“I want to have pictures to show my hypothetical wains someday Orla,” Erin blushed and felt James squeeze her shoulder and press a soft kiss to the side of her forehead.  

“That bloody diary giving me heart failure” Mary finally calmed and let herself smile at the thought of having Erin be a mother someday in the distant future.  

“Right, let’s get these pictures,” Gerry took the camera from Claire as the five of them lined up for the standard Derry Girls group shot, they had to get at every event.  

James blushed thinking of Erin and her diary, she never failed to make him excited for their future, even now as they began graduate jobs in cities which were hours apart, she thought of their future as he did, a shared future. He could wait. He would always wait for her