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Erin is dying.


Well at least she thinks she is. She’s never actually died so she can’t be one hundred percent sure, but… Well, if she were to ask her ancestors in heaven (or purgatory, wherever they landed) what it feels like, she’s confident they’d agree that this is it.


She tries to call Clare, but it’s eight in the morning and Clare is no doubt on her way to class, annoying dolt that she is. She considers calling Orla, but on imagining Orla’s interpretation of things, she knows it could only end in suggestions expediting her death.


She cannot call James about this.


Which only leaves Michelle.


“Aye, who is it then?” Michelle barks down the line.


“That’s how you answer the phone at your place of work, is it?” Erin asks, momentarily distracted from her imminent death.


“Erin? You know I can’t be having personal calls!”


“This is important!” Erin wails, “I’m dying!”


“It’s called a hangover, Erin,” Michelle says breezily, “Mind, I thought uni nights were on a Wednesday night, not a Monday?”


“It’s not a hangover,” Erin protests. She glances over her shoulder, checking she’s alone in the hall, phone pressed firmly to her ear, like that might award her more privacy “It’s my… piss.”


“Yer piss?” Michelle repeats in confusion.


Erin glances around again, face reddening with the realisation she’s going to have to elaborate. “It hurts, Michelle. And there’s… blood.”


Michelle is quiet on the other end for a moment and Erin fears she’s going to have to go into even more excruciating detail, when she finally responds, in a somewhat forced tone, “Erin, are you calling to tell me you have cystitis?”


“Cyst-what?” Erin cries.


“Jesus, Erin, I really don’t want to know these things.”


“I know,” Erin wails, “hearing about my piss on a Tuesday morning isn’t exactly cracker, but-”


“It’s not that,” Michelle says, her voice heavy with disgust. “You and James had sex.”


Erin’s spine straightens instantly and she glances around for the umpteenth time, convinced the entire college has overheard this exchange.


What…? How did you…?”


“I’m gunna boke,” Michelle says shortly.


“Is this… Did James… Do I have an STD?” Erin demands, the blood draining from her face.


Michelle’s sigh is heavy down the line. “It’s not an STD, dickhead, it’s a bladder infection.”


“What’s my bladder got to do with… that.”


“I don’t have time to give you the sex education we never got, Erin. But it’s all in the same vicinity, if you catch my drift.”


“I don’t catch your drift,” Erin protests. “I don’t catch it at all.”


“Look, I’ve got to get back to work, not to mention that the thought of you riding James is making me physically ill…” She makes a choking sound which Erin finds overly dramatic, all things considered, given she’s the one who’s dying. “Drink some cranberry juice, you’ll be grand.”


“Cranberry juice, what does that do…?”


The lines goes dead.




As it turns out, finding cranberry juice in Belfast on a Tuesday morning is quite difficult, particularly when Erin has to stop every ten minutes to find a bathroom so that she can leak out three drops of excruciating piss.


Of course this is happening.


Of course, of course, of course.


She really thought she was beyond the whole catholic guilt thing. It’s overdone and cliché, and she’s in college now, for feck’s sake. She’s nineteen years old. Michelle’s been having sex for a literal year now, and no lightning bolt has dropped from the sky to smite her (at least not yet anyway). Even Clare has managed some action, and there’s been no biblical retribution on that front either.


And it’s not like it’s some totally irresponsible, ride out of wedlock or anything because, well, Erin loves James.


(Not that she’s told him that yet).


The injustice of it all is so sickening, Erin thinks she could cry. Although, to be fair, it could be the pain in her bladder bringing tears to her eyes.


“You alright, Pet?”


A lady with an offensively pink cardigan is looking at her in concern. Erin fights the overwhelming urge to sink into that wee pink cardigan and bawl, I had sex for the first time - and it was perfect and everything I could have asked for and. I. Love. Him. - but now Jesus hates me and I’m dying!


She wins the fight narrowly, a tear escaping discreetly down her cheek. “Aye, you wouldn’t know where the cranberry juice is would you?”


The lady gives her a knowing look – although one that seems more sympathetic than judging – and directs her to aisle six.




Erin drinks a litre of cranberry juice and four hours later she feels no better. In fact, if anything, she feels worse. The pain in her bladder is now excruciating, radiates to her back and she’s gone from passing drops of bloody urine to nothing at all.


She’s also cold. Extremely cold. She’s wrapped in three lamb wool blankets and has the heater on high and is still shivering uncontrollably.


“Jesus, Erin,” her roommate - Aisling, of all people - says, dropping her book bag on the ground and heading straight for the window to open it. “It’s a million degrees in here!”


“Please don’t,” Erin begs, her mouth unusually dry, “I’m freezing.”


It’s only then that Aisling looks at her properly, her eyebrows furrowing in concern. “Are you alright? You’re bright red.”


“Am I?” Erin murmurs, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead. Aisling repeats the motion and Erin nearly jumps. “Feck you’re cold!”


“And you’re really hot,” Aisling says in concern, “are you sick?”


Her brain feels foggy. “Aye, I’ve got cystitis. But I drank all the cranberry juice!”


She motions bleakly to the empty bottle by her bed and then immediately retracts her arm back under the warm covers.


“I think you need a Doctor,” Aisling says, chewing her lip. “I’ve got class in a half hour but I could call James-”


“Don’t call James,” Erin exclaims in a panicked voice, impressed that she sounds so determined when in actuality her brain is deeply ambivalent, warring between the absolute embarrassment of James seeing her like this and the lovely image of him bringing her a warm cup of tea with paracetamol.


She knows she’s being an eejit. James has known her since she was fifteen. He’s seen her in pimple cream and pyjamas, procrastinating from homework by writing in her diary about John-Paul, elbow deep in a lolly bag from Dennis’ wee shop.




Last time he saw her she was naked, trying to entice him back under the covers (an endeavour she finally managed to succeed in by removing the covers all together). And while he’s been her boyfriend for two whole months now, it feels like they’ve crossed a line, pyjama clad, pimple cream Erin on one side, naked, sex goddess Erin on the other. Sex goddesses don’t get bladder infections two days after the fact. Erin doesn’t know much but she does know that.


“I’ll get you an appointment at the university clinic,” Aisling says, “I’ll come back and get you after class, okay?”


Erin nods, satisfied, snuggling even deeper under the covers.




Aisling betrays her (although by the time she arrives back in their room at six, James in tow, Erin barely has the energy to feel betrayed). She hears Aisling mumbling in a concerned voice about how there were no available time slots at the clinic just seconds before James lifts the covers, a gush of cold air disturbing her from semi unconsciousness.


“What’re ye doing here?” she groans, half in despair and half in relief. She still feels cold but it’s the pain in her back more than anything now, unrelenting in its intensity.


She feels James’ hand cup her face and she can’t help but lean into it, relief immediately over taking any embarrassment she feels.


“Why didn’t you call me?” he says softly, crouching beside the bed, eyes imploring and concerned and green


God she loves him.


“I’m disgusting,” she says in way of explanation.


“You’re not disgusting,” he says immediately, the back of his hand feeling her forehead. “But you are very warm.”


“Maybe she’s got a kidney infection?” Aisling suggests, “My sister had that once, she had to go to hospital and everything.”


Erin does feel betrayed now, sitting herself up enough despite the pain to protest, “I do not need to go to hospital.”


Jesus must hate her, because she immediately vomits on her pillow. On wiping her mouth, it occurs to her just how dizzy she feels and just how excruciating the pain in her back is. What doesn’t occur to her is that she just vomited on her pillow in front of James and wiped her mouth with her own sleeve. She barely even hears a conspiratorial whisper between him and Aisling or registers that he’s started unbuttoning her pyjama top, discarding it in her laundry bin and pulling his own jumper over his head and depositing it over hers instead, pulling her arms through the sleeves.


“Come on,” he says simply, tugging her upward, arm around her waist.




The trip to the hospital passes in a blur. In fact, when Erin wakes up on a bed in the corridor, an intravenous line connecting her to several fluid bags of different medications she can’t pronounce, a humiliating tube draining yellow urine from her bladder into a bag hanging from the side of the bed, she’s at a loss as to the last several hours of her life.


Which is almost a gift in and of itself, really.


She does feel better though - the pain in her back is a mild throb where a stab wound once existed.


She realises with a jolt that James is sharing her pillow, albeit in a far less comfortable position, seated in a chair at the head of her bed, arms crossed over his chest, head resting on an angle. She turns onto her left side, aligning her eyes with his.


“Hey stranger,” she says softly, tracing his lips.


His eyes flicker open and looking into them, even upside down, her stomach bottoms out in that way that it’s been doing for a while now. He smiles at her and his eyes crinkle and, dear God, she’s so in love with this boy it hurts.


“Are you feeling better?” he asks, reaching over at an awkward angle to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear.


She nods, leaning into his touch and sighing. “What did I miss?”


“Not much,” he says with a shrug. “I lost a fight to get you a bed, but then you almost fainted when they put the drip in and they figured you were too dramatic to leave in a chair, so, here we are.”


She swats at his shoulder and he grins. It’s a side of James she’s enjoyed exploring, the one that teases her relentlessly. She wonders if he was too nervous to needle her before, scared that it might turn her off. In actuality, it’s had the opposite effect.


“You were also in urinary retention, apparently.”


“I felt like I was dying,” she admits.


“Why didn’t you call me earlier?”


She finds it hard to meet his eye. “I was embarrassed.”




“It’s not exactly…” She hesitates on the word. “It’s not exactly sexy.”


She drops her gaze a little, embarrassed to even admit it, on top of everything. She buries her chin into the neck of her jumper, instinctively, before realising it’s not her jumper at all, it’s James’ jumper, and it smells familiar and perfect and oh God, this boy she’s so in love with is never going to want to have sex with her ever again after this…


Her pulls her chin up gently, eyes determinedly set on hers. “Erin, are you serious?”


For a moment she thinks he’s about to reveal some deeply perverted fantasy about having sex with her on her death bed or something, and how could she seriously not realise that’s something he would want, when he says instead, eyes soft and earnest, “I love you, Erin. I don’t want you to be… I don’t know, I don’t want you to be sexy all the time, or done up, or whatever. I just want you to be you. I mean, I’d really prefer you not to have a kidney infection, because you looked like you were in a lot of pain, but-”


“You what?” she asks, shocked.


He sighs. “I said, I’d really prefer you not to have a kidney infection, because of the whole pain thing, but also-”


“Not that bit,” Erin says, almost impatiently, “the other bit.”


It’s not so out of this world that James might love her too – in fact, she’s suspected it a couple of times now, like when she gave her grand speech on their graduation day about not wanting to wait any longer and he’d looked at her like he was the happiest person alive, or when he’d kissed her for the second time and his forehead had come to rest against hers, his hand soft against her cheek and his expression almost devout. Or, she blushes, just the other day when she’d cajoled him into staying in bed with her, her hands snaking underneath his unbuttoned shirt, kisses soft against his neck, his protests about his study group becoming weaker and weaker until finally, she’d done away with subtleties and brazenly pulled out of the covers and straddled him over his boxers, at which point he’d given up all together and pinned her underneath him, grinning widely at her shriek of surprise and looking at her like she hung the moon in the sky.


It’s not so out of this world, but all the same, Erin feels like it can’t possibly be true, because if it is, Jesus must not actually hate her after all (and that’s a difficult pill to swallow, given the day’s events).


“I love you, Erin” he repeats simply.


Really?” she asks, voice small.


He gives her a look that she thinks might read, yes, obviously, you complete eejit, before he presses his lips to hers (even though it’s upside down and they’re in the middle of a corridor in the accident and emergency department, and she literally has a tube coming out of her, draining her piss).


“I love you too,” she says quietly, when they break apart, her heart hammering against her chest. “I wanted to say it the other day, but I guess I got… Distracted.”


James laughs softly. “That makes two of us, then.”




It takes forty-eight hours of intravenous antibiotics and fluids before Erin is discharged back to her dormitory, the Doctor’s advice about always “urinating after intercourse” burned into her brain in all its humiliating glory.


Clare calls her at the dormitory, apologising profusely for being on her way to class in Erin’s hour of need when she was practically on her death bed.


“I’m fine, Clare,” Erin says with a roll of her eyes. Honestly, the theatrics.


Michelle doesn’t call, but she does send a card wishing Erin a speedy recovery, warning her that if she ever reaches out again with any information that could lead back to an image of her and James having sex, Michelle will murder the both of them.


Orla doesn’t catch wind of any of it (because if she did it would inevitably get back to Ma Mary, which would be a complete disaster). She does send an oddly timed painting though, in which Erin is dressed in her rock band best, performing with the Cranberries (which, according to the accompanying note, came to Orla in a dream).


Aisling has (very kindly) cleaned up her vomit and changed the sheets.


James has bought her flowers. They’re yellow and obnoxious and look like they’ll need a lot of looking after lest they die three days early, but Erin absolutely loves them.


(Because he definitely loves her).


Erin is grand.