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Smoke Break

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He had said a couple of days, Erin thought moodily as she waited for the head on the Guinness she’d just poured to go down. That he’d only be gone a couple of days. It had been six, and – yes – she had definitely been counting.

Before James had left so abruptly, Erin hadn’t gone a day without seeing him since he’d come back to Derry. He was always there, he was everywhere – exactly where she liked for him to be – always with a smile for her, or an eye roll. His attention, trained on her. She wasn’t trying to be self-absorbed or anything like that, she just couldn’t help but notice. She liked noticing it, and she liked how she felt when she noticed it - warm and buzzy. 

And now that he’d left again, not only was it boring, not only did she miss him, but she had never felt so completely out of her mind.

The first day was fine. Well, it wasn’t fine. She had been equal parts indignant and dispirited, all of the disappointment of him leaving so suddenly after doing that – snogging her up against a wall – roiling up inside of her. It was longing and anger and envy and – and homesickness all wrapped into one. It made for a very long diary entry that night.

Had she been too keen? Had she totally misunderstood? All of the looks, and the touches, and the time spent together, endless afternoons and evenings in his company. And the kiss. Had she been reading it all wrong? Surely she hadn’t been reading it all wrong. But then…

No wonder he’d left, she was so hopeless. He was only in Dublin, Jesus – but…it felt like he was a sea away again. Like he’d gotten a better offer. Like, again, Derry was never going to be his first choice.

That was day one and it sucked balls.

Day two was better, or at least she mostly just felt more resigned; it was only day two, he’d be back soon, and then she’d get everything straightened out. Day three she had started to wonder – he said he’d only be gone a couple of days. Maybe he’d return today.

When Michelle had popped in to see her that night at work, Erin’s heart had jumped up into her throat, waiting to see James following behind her. But he didn’t. And when Erin made it five whole minutes before even asking after him, she felt pretty proud of herself until Michelle had shrugged and said she hadn’t heard from him and then changed the subject and Erin had felt miserable all over again.

Day four had been awful. She’d kept an eye on the front door the entire day, and every time she’d hear the door jingle or she’d come up from the back, she’d half expected to see him there. Each hour had dragged on, and she felt utterly distracted no matter what she was doing.

When she wiped down the counter, she was wondering how many times James and Clare had gone out since they’d been back in Dublin. Who had he met? Who had he been talking to? Was it anyone interesting? Anyone pretty?

When she took a drink order, she contemplated if he would call. No, he probably wouldn’t, that would be unusual for him if he was coming back soon. Maybe she should call Clare? No, that would be weird. 

When she emptied the sanitizing machine, she questioned whether or not he’d met Clare’s friends there and maybe he wasn’t even thinking about Erin at all because they were all having such good craic.

It wasn’t until she was falling asleep that she felt a small, dangerous thrill that ensured she’d be disappointed: maybe the next day he’d finally come back.

And then he hadn’t. Day five was more of the same, only with crushing dismay heaped on top of it all. She wished she could feel anything but what she was feeling right now because it still sucked, even more than day one.

She felt all anxious and restless, wondering about him, just wanting to talk to him. She wished she could be less of a…of a girl about it – and then immediately felt bad for the thought and grumbled internally about patriarchy. But really, she shouldn’t just be waiting around for him, girl power and all that.

Only, this wasn’t just some lad. This was James.

And now – day six – and she figured that she may as well get used to it because it was looking like it was going to be at least a week of this shite and really she needed to just grow a pair and pull herself the fuck together, this was getting pathetic.

When Michelle came through the door again that evening, Erin wasn’t even looking for him – really, she wasn’t. And really, she was glad for the distraction and Michelle’s company. When they sat out back together smoking – and yes, she was really smoking, ok? It was just that kind of night. Or, that’s what she would have told James if he was there with her – Erin listened attentively as Michelle told her about Brian the neighbour and that he was cooking dinner for her that night.

“Cooking dinner? For you?” Erin asked, feeling her eyes widen. It sounded so…alluring. Would she meet someone who’d cook for her some day? Is that what it was to date someone older? Like a real adult? Erin all of a sudden understood the appeal. “Is he a good cook?”

“Who the fuck knows?” Michelle said in somewhat giddy disbelief herself. “But I literally – and I cannot stress this enough – literally couldn’t give a fuck. For him, I’d put anything in my mouth.” She shot Erin a lecherous glance. “His dick.”

“Aye. Thank you, Michelle. I knew what you meant,” Erin said, rolling her eyes and putting out her cigarette in the ashtray Domhnall kept out back. “And that’s a good note to go back to work on.”

“Ach, you’re no fun. I don’t have anyone to talk to about this, you know. It’s all lads at work and then you virgins at home,” Michelle complained as she stood up to stretch. “I’m just a lonesome cowgirl, riding alone.”

“Oh Jesus,” Erin muttered, tucking a few loose strands of hair back into her clip.

“There’s no excuse for you next year, you know. You’ve got to do it sometime otherwise you’re just gonna…I don’t know. Dry out.”

“I don’t think it works like that,” Erin scoffed, and then shot Michelle a panicked look. “Wait, does it work like that?”

“Well if it takes too much longer I guess you’ll see. Who was that guy you were talking about before?”

“Which one?” Erin asked.

“Aye, that’s the spirit!” Michelle grinned, clapping her on the back.

“No really – which one?”

“Oh,” Michelle said, pausing to think. “I don’t remember his name. The one you said looked like Jared Leto from behind.”

“Oh God. No, couldn’t be him. He’s the one I almost boked on,” Erin remembered, cringing. It was at a house party that – for the first and last time – she’d had tequila and, one too many shots later, she was bravely straddling a boy in someone else’s bed. It had all been absolutely grand until she leaned down to keep snogging him, dry heaved in his face, and was practically catapulted off the bed. Apparently it had not been the first time this particular boy had been boked on – or almost boked on – and his reflexes had gotten quick. Erin figured that said a lot more about him than it did about her.

“Ah right, bad bit of luck there,” Michelle shrugged, heading inside from the pub’s back alleyway, Erin following just behind. “There’ll be others, Belfast’s a big city and I’m sure there are loads of rides – oy, James!”

Erin could have given herself whiplash with how quickly she snapped her head up to see for herself that James was sitting on his regular stool, fiddling with a coaster with a half-drunk pint in front of him. He’d clearly been there for a while already, waiting.

She resisted the urge to do anything besides hurry back behind the counter and pretend to be focused solely on retying her apron around her waist, her brain practically emitting static because she felt so jumbled by the surprise of seeing him.

“When’d you get back?” Michelle asked, sliding onto the stool next to him.

“Just tonight. I called you,” he said to Michelle, “then thought I’d try here.”

“Good to have you back,” Michelle said, slinging her arm over his shoulders jovially. “You’re all set up, how long have you been here? Should have come out back with us.”

“Oh I just thought I’d wait, get a beer. Knew you wouldn’t be long,” he said, sending a quick sideways glance to Erin. He looked very serious. It made her nervous. She started folding the clean bar rags just to be able to do something with her hands.

“So tell me – does Clare’s flat still smell vaguely like lasagna?” Michelle asked James.

“No, to me it’s got more of a…a meaty smell I think? It was hard to tell, she’s got those candles burning all the fucking time to try and cover it, gave me a headache,” James complained.

“Clare and her candles,” Michelle sighed, shaking her head. “She’s going to burn the whole place down someday and then she’ll really cack herself.”

“That’s what I told her. Well, not the cacking part.” James sighed too.

Michelle continued to pepper him with questions about Dublin and Erin listened closely even though she pretended not to and was very productive in the interim – stacking glasses and pouring drinks and quartering limes. She was very good at quartering limes. Even while her hands were sweaty like this. She was a real professional.

“All right, time to dine,” Michelle said, standing up and waggling her eyebrows at Erin.

“You’re going?” James asked – looking too worried about it, Erin thought gloomily.

“Aye, I’ve got a date. Brian is making me dinner. You know what that means.”

“I don’t, but I’m not sure I want –” James started.

“It means I’m getting stuffed tonight,” Michelle cut in.

“Oh Jesus Michelle,” James said, looking like he’d just tasted something absolutely foul. “Ok, please leave now.”

“Fuck you too, James. Don’t be jealous,” she said brightly before giving a parting nod to Erin, “See you.”

“Bye,” Erin called after her, before giving a quick, nervous glance to James. He was taking a final sip of his beer, and was watching her over the rim of the glass. She was caught.

She cleared her throat awkwardly before finally greeting him, “Good to see you. You were gone a while. Even Domhnall was asking after you.”

“Really?” he asked, giving a small, disbelieving laugh. “Does he even know who I am?”

“Course he does. You’re Michelle’s wee English cousin, he knows you. Besides, you’re here most days, that makes you a very loyal customer,” she pointed out. Three days after he’d left, Domhnall had made a passing remark wondering what Erin had done to scare him off which had irritated her to no end — mostly because she’d been asking herself the same question. If it had been up to her, James would have been back sitting at the bar across from her days ago.

“When are you off tonight?” he asked.

“Um – another hour yet,” she said, checking the clock. “You heading out too?”

“No. I'm actually wondering if I should stay. Get another one.” He gestured to his empty pint glass.

“Oh. And?” she asked expectantly, trying to school her features in a way that didn’t absolutely scream what she was thinking: Please stay.

“Well,” he shrugged awkwardly, clearly deciding what he ought to say next. “What do you think?”

He was looking at her a bit warily, she thought. He was trying to read her, maybe, trying to guess her thoughts to see which way she was inclined – like maybe he thought she wasn’t quite sure that she wanted him there, and that he’d get up and leave and stay away as long as she liked if she even said one word.

No wait, maybe that was wrong. Why would he be worried? He hadn’t been the one paralyzed for six days wondering what it was he thought of her, like really thought of her. He had been the one to kiss her and then leave – all he’d been doing was taking action, not sitting around waiting to see what was going to happen next, like her.

And she’d been reading everything so wrong lately, she should really stop trying to read him at all. Because whenever she was thinking it was one way, it wasn’t that way at all and then she ended up here, six days later.

But she had to answer, he was asking her to answer, and she already knew what she wanted to say next; it was probably going to be something she journaled about endlessly later that night, wishing she could just get it the fuck together around him. She bit back her own pride, grabbed a clean pint glass off the shelf, and turned to him to ask “What were you drinking before? I’ll get you another.”

He’d been so serious and reserved with her that it struck her to see a smile spread out across his face; she couldn’t help but to smile back, relieved that he was glad at her answer, that he wanted to be here with her too, for now.

The hour flew by with him there and, even though he still seemed more quiet than usual, even though they didn’t talk much because Erin was busy finishing up her shift, there was just something about him there that made her feel a hesitant relief begin to pump palpably through her. He was back. He had come to see her. It would be ok. They would be ok. Just as it always was. She hoped.

When her shift ended and James closed out, she was sliding her jacket over her shoulders when he asked, “Can I walk you home?”

Her heart gave a pleasant little jump at the familiar question, which she tried to immediately dampen. “Oh sure. Of course.”

It was quiet and cool out in the summer night air, with only distant sounds of traffic and most houses they passed by asleep for the night. Sometimes Erin could catch the odd blue light from a television illuminating a window through a crack in the curtains. But the dark and calm did little to quell the prickle of anxiety at their prolonged silence and the distance between them as they walked side by side – he never usually gave her that wide of a berth.

“Did you have –” she started, finally deciding to just say something, just as he said at the very same time, “Listen, can I –” and they stopped and laughed awkwardly before he said, “You go.”

“Oh. Well – I was just going to ask if you enjoyed it, the whole trip?” she asked. She wished dearly she’d had better timing, that he hadn’t told her to go first; it sounded like he’d had something, like, actually important to say, something she’d been waiting for six days to hear.

“Oh, yeah. Good time. Think you’ll go visit soon?”

“Aye,” Erin said, “Just need to clear the time off with Domhnall, and my ma of course. Michelle and Orla think they’ll be able to soon.”

“I’d like to go again too,” he said. “With you – with you, and Michelle and Orla. Go see Clare again before I have to go back. If that’s ok?”

“Of course it is,” she said, ignoring the sickening little jolt at having to think about him “going back,” and instead letting out a little half laugh. The idea that he wouldn’t be invited, that he wouldn’t be expected, that they would somehow be totally fine with it if he just begged off for no good reason, was just too foreign. “It’d be weird if you didn’t go.”

“Yeah. Yeah it would. But just – you know, just wanted to check. Because…well,” he said, stuffing his hands in his jacket and seeming to focus on the shrubbery in the front garden of a house they were walking past.

“Because…why?” Erin asked, trying to ask as innocently as she could while simultaneously attempting to study the tiny sliver of his profile that she could see from this angle in the dark. Her heart felt like it was beating out a samba in her chest.

“You know…cause I –” He took a deep, steadying breath and continued, “Because of the other night. At Michelle’s.”

“Oh. Oh, well that – that was just…that,” she said, trying to sound effortlessly nonchalant, trying to sound like it was nothing, like she definitely hadn’t been thinking about it incessantly since it happened. She wanted to reassure him. “It wouldn’t mean that I wouldn’t want you to go to Dublin with us. I’d always want you to go to Dublin with us, no matter what.”

“Oh? Oh, good,” he said with a dull, deflated edge to his voice. He was really into the shrubbery. “Because, like, if you didn’t…well I’d want you to know that you shouldn’t be…you know, worried about me going to Dublin.”

“I definitely wouldn’t be worried,” she said hastily.

“Because even though I’ve been to Dublin, it was just like…a spur of the moment thing. I thought it would be good. And I wouldn’t want you to be worried.”

“...Right.” Erin had been following at first but now she definitely wasn’t. What exactly was Dublin supposed to be in this scenario? “Well, I’m not worried, so –” She thought she was doing a good job at lying, all things considered.

“– Because, like, I know you’ve said that you don’t want to go to Dublin. With me. And I shouldn’t have tried to…take you…there.”

“Can we stop talking about Dublin now?” she asked. She’d been following it until she hadn’t, and she didn’t really know what he was trying to say now. She didn’t know what Dublin was supposed to be – was she Dublin? That didn’t totally track…

“Yeah, it was getting away from me anyway. I’m just trying to say that…I’m sorry, Erin. I’m sorry for – for that night. It was really out of nowhere, I promise. Like…just don’t be worried. I just want things to be ok. And I won’t do it again.”

She nodded coolly, taking in his words and trying not to let herself feel like her stomach was sinking so far down through her body that it would probably seep out of her feet and all over the ground underneath her. It was one thing to know it wasn’t anything – she’d really known as soon as he’d said he was going with Clare that morning. It had taken longer to accept it, but she’d known. This wasn’t a surprise; really, it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything. She knew that before and she knew that now. But to hear it confirmed felt like something completely different.

Because – she’d known but she’d been hoping desperately that it wasn’t true. Hoping that she was reading him all wrong again and that there was some perfectly reasonable explanation that didn’t include him buggering off because he didn’t want to kiss her again and wanted to put as much distance between them as immediately as he could. Because – well, he’d said he wouldn’t do it again, but what if she wanted him to?

“Wanted me to what?” he asked.

“What?” she asked, looking at him sharply.

“You just said, ‘what if I wanted you to?’ Wanted me to do what?” He was looking at her closely now, no longer fixated on the shrubbery but on her, his brows furrowed in confusion.

Oh shit. Oh fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck .

“I didn’t say that,” she said, giving him a little frown and a head shake while trying to sound as confident as she could.

“Yes you did,” he insisted.


“Wanted me to…” he said, trailing off. “You definitely said that.” She let the silence hang, hoping beyond hope he’d let it drop. He didn’t. “Wanted me to…do it again?” he asked hesitantly.

Erin could not believe how badly she’d fucked herself. They’d been having a perfectly normal conversation – well, not completely normal, but normalish – and she’d gone and fucked herself. She definitely wouldn’t be writing in her diary about inviting him to have another beer, she’d be writing about what a complete fucking probably-friendship-ruining idiot she was. He’d never want to talk to her again, or spend time with her probably, too worried that he was leading her on or some shite.

And on top of that, there probably was some ride in London whose menthols he’d been smoking that he didn’t want to tell her about because it was too special. He said there wasn’t, but with her luck there probably was. And he probably didn’t want to make her feel bad because for a little while there they’d sort of had something that really hadn’t amounted to anything before he was choosing to leave, to go off and live a completely different life totally divorced from anything he had ever shared with her.

“Erin,” he said, like he was trying to prompt her response, almost sort of pleading like he was dying to hear her answer, dying to know how she felt so that he could know what he had to do, what he would have to say.

All she could do was shake her head and try to swallow the lump in her throat.

But he continued, “Because if…if you did want me to, well –” Oh God, here it came. “I’d …want that. Too.”

Wait…what? Her eyes shot directly up to him to see what expression was there. Was he being serious? He looked like he was being serious. Actually, it looked like he was about to boke, but he looked like he would have been boking seriously.

She must have looked as incredulous as she felt because he was tripping over his words next, “Nothing serious or anything like that. Like I know you – because you’ve said. I know you’re not looking for, like, a thing. Like, don’t worry. Whatever you want.”

Oh. Right. Of course – nothing serious. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was “looking” for, but she wasn’t sure it was what he was describing. And what he was offering – well, it was probably a pretty bad idea. A bad idea that would leave her feeling ten times what she’d been feeling for the past six days; a bad idea that probably wasn’t a very nice thing to accept for herself; a bad idea that had never sounded so good.

Because – she liked him, and it was James, and she remembered what it had felt like when he pressed into her, smirking, when she had sighed into his mouth and the way his fingers had imprinted themselves into her rib cage and his knee in between her legs. She’d been remembering it for six days, making herself positively sick for it, and she wanted to do it again, and do it again as soon as possible. And he was going to let her do it again as soon as possible?

He would never stop reminding her, purposefully or not, that he would be leaving again soon – it was always the undercurrent, it would always be the undercurrent of his time here. There was no getting away from it, no forgetting it; James would always be leaving. So maybe that meant that now was the “someday” she had always talked about with him. It wasn’t like how she’d thought it would be – he wouldn’t be her boyfriend or anything like that, he was making that very clear – but what if there wasn’t another someday, and what if this was good enough? What if this was all they got before they kept growing up with the distance growing along with it? Maybe she should just do it, enjoy it, take it while it was here in front of them. What could be the harm?

“Are you – what are you thinking?” he asked, sounding nervous. She’d been silent for a long while.

She didn’t really know how else to say it – that she knew this was probably a mistake but, God, she wanted to snog him again if he would let her – so she answered with, “Ok.”

“Ok?” he breathed out.

“Aye. Ok,” and she nodded along this time to emphasize her point. She tried to smile, but it felt weird on her face even though she was ok with this. Really, she was ok with this; more than ok – she wanted this. Definitely wanted this.

She heard him let out a whoosh of breath and looked up at him again to see him looking dumbstruck but glad.

“Wow. Ok. Uh, ok,” he said, running a hand through his hair. God, she really liked how long his hair had gotten, it really suited him. “So d’you – what’re you doing tonight?”

She would have laughed at that, may have found some delight in James wasting no fucking time, if she wasn’t feeling sort of queasy. This was good, right? This was good. They were on the same page now. And this was good. And he was looking at her with bright, expectant eyes and the thought that she might just be able to reach up and kiss him right now even, and that it would be ok, felt very appealing. Yes, this was definitely good.

“Nothing tonight. What were you thinking?” she answered.

“Want to watch a film? I think Video Village is closed, but we have a couple of tapes.”

“Aye, I know what tapes you have,” Erin said, rolling her eyes and feeling grateful to be more in her depth. The Mallons had owned the same three tapes for years – a pirated copy of Pulp Fiction with Korean subtitles, the 1989 Derry City FC FAI Cup win recorded from the tv and which no one was allowed to tape over, and Ghost.

She was already anticipating the argument they would have about which one she’d have to endure tonight; the familiar territory was comforting.

“Then you’ll be surprised – we have Armageddon now too. It doesn’t even have subtitles, Michelle nicked it from Video Village.”

“There are four tapes now? Things have changed so much,” she teased before asking, “But – won’t Deidre mind if I’m over late?”

“No. She’s working nights again, same as Uncle Martin. She won’t be there to mind,” he answered. “So if you want to come over – but if you don’t that’s ok. We could do something else.”

Erin’s stomach flipped pleasantly – that’s probably all the queasiness had been, the same anticipation that always got her buzzing – and tried not to let the flush on her cheeks deepen any more than it already had when she said, “No. I want to. Let’s go.”


No matter that Michelle had her own flat now, Martin and Deidre Mallon’s house would probably always be “Michelle’s.” Erin had come to realize this only tonight, when she’d left a message for her ma on their home phone to say she’d “gone to Michelle’s to watch a film” and that she’d be home before too long. She hadn’t meant to lie, or rather, hadn’t meant to hide the truth. It had honestly just come out of her mouth like that.

But then she was absurdly glad that she’d never have to explain that she was here, alone, with a boy, even if that boy was James and she suspected that he was pretty beloved by her entire family, English or not. She wasn’t sure how those feelings could change if they knew she was here with him alone, and under less than platonic circumstances; probably not in his favor. Better to avoid telling them altogether.

It was actually very pleasant to watch a film at Michelle’s when it was just the two of them. The sofa here was so roomy; Erin had never noticed when it was all of them trying to squish together until they couldn’t anymore and someone would have to sit on the floor – usually Orla. It was almost unsettling – she even had her own cushion to sit on, all to herself.

She might not have thought much about it or noticed it under other circumstances, if it were just her and Michelle. It was just that, right now, there was an awfully wide gulf of sofa cushion between her and James, wide enough for them both to hover their hands awkwardly next to each other’s without touching, practically daring the other one to make the move and just reach out. God, how she wanted him to just reach out.

She had adamantly refused to watch Ghost with him – to which he’d complained, “Oh come on, it’s such a classic!” and she’d replied saltily (but not altogether truthfully), “Just because it’s your favourite doesn’t make it a classic” – mostly because she didn’t think she could handle watching Patrick Swayze fondle Demi Moore’s arse while sitting next to the person who she’d been hoping would do the same to her.

So they were watching Armageddon and she was only halfway paying attention because she was, instead, trying to judge whether or not James’s hand had moved an inch closer to her.

Was this an alien movie? Surely there would be aliens. It was in space. She’d seen Independence Day. There were always aliens.

Fuck it. Why was she worried anymore, where had these nerves come from? Hadn’t they just agreed? She was allowed to do this now, she wanted to do this now, and he probably wanted her to do this now too.

She took a deep, slow breath and then she finally let her hand cross the extra distance between them, brushing up against his just enough so that he couldn’t miss her intention. She felt him jump the tiniest amount in surprise, but in the same moment he opened his hand under hers and let his fingers thread through hers like it was the most natural thing in the world. It was the most natural thing in the world. 

A good reminder, Erin thought to herself – don’t overthink it. It’s miserable when you overthink it, it’s just James. It’s simple.

Ok. Ok good. At least now she could concentrate on the film because it was his turn to make a move, she could just sit back and relax now. She suspected the film was probably good from what she’d seen, it was too bad she’d barely been paying attention in the beginning parts. Something about an asteroid though? Had the aliens come in yet? Maybe there was a twist. 

But then he let his thumb start to brush lightly over the soft skin of her wrist, Erin decided that there was just going to be no hope for her and this film. It was too bad – it seemed like it was probably a fun watch and, she hadn’t caught the character’s name, but the young guy looked like a complete ride.

She wondered how much he could sense the intensity of her concentration she had trained on his thumb because, after a few moments, he wasn’t even really holding her hand anymore. He’d crept his hand out of her grasp and had, instead, started slowly trailing his fingertips along her forearm and back up to her palm, drawing dizzying circles that made her feel like she just might burst from the sensation of it.

How did he know to do this? Did he know that this was making her feel flushed, that it was making her practically, actually buzz? Was he as distracted as she felt? She half wanted to look over at him, to see for herself, but even looking at him felt like a step too far. What if it broke whatever spell that had induced him to do this? What if he stopped? She definitely didn’t want him to stop.

Only then, suddenly, after what felt like dozens of minutes, her skin there becoming increasingly sensitive to his touch, he did stop.

She barely moved; maybe he would start again. But then curiosity overtook her previous impulse not to look, and she glanced up furtively at him – only to find him looking right back at her, just as hesitantly.

She didn’t know what overtook her sounder judgment or lessened her inhibition – maybe it was the soft look on his face, the familiar green of his eyes and shape of his face so fully in view, or maybe it was the peevishness she felt when he had stopped tracing his fingers along her, or that she remembered how it had been six days since he’d been pushing her up against a wall and putting his hands in her hair – but whatever it was felt like it was reverberating through her whole body enough to spur her to turn towards him, reach out, gather his face into her hands, and kiss him.

It seemed almost as if he’d been steering her towards this, goading her into it, like he’d been expecting her to do this, because his mouth was opening under hers almost immediately and his arm was snaking around her waist to pull her into him on the sofa. And if it didn’t feel so absolutely necessary to have his lips on hers and her hand settled right where the collar of his t-shirt met the nape of his neck, she might have stopped just to annoy him for leading her into it so effortlessly.

Fine. She guessed she’d give him a pass. This time. Especially when it felt like sweet, sweet justice to make him make those noises when she threaded her fingers through his hair or let her teeth gently scrape his bottom lip.

When he slowly drew one of her legs up over his lap, she understood how imperative it was that they be touching at every possible point of juncture. Good idea, she wanted to say. Excellent idea. But instead she let her hand slip down the back collar of his shirt to skim over the wonderful expanse of bare skin there. And then he was doing what she wanted – letting his hand linger on the back of her thigh until it glided up over the back pocket of her jeans. When she hummed in approval, he did it again, his hand moving with intention.

It wasn’t a Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore arse grab, but James clearly already had good foundational arse-grabbing knowledge. She could work with this.

When she felt him shiver once and she wasn’t sure if it was because of her hair brushing against his cheek or her lips on his neck, she cataloged it and didn’t stop. But she couldn’t help her smirk when she heard him breath out “Jesus” hotly against her ear and felt his hand settle firmly on her hip before one began to test the hem of her shirt.

“You can,” she murmured against his mouth, skimming her fingers along his hand to indicate that he could slide it up further. If he wanted.

He stilled for a moment and she worried she’d said exactly the wrong thing. “If you want,” she said. Maybe he didn’t. It was ok if he didn’t. 

“That a joke?” he laughed out breathlessly and he let his hand drift over her bare skin at her waist. She shivered too.

She thought she may have heard him breath out another grateful “Jesus,” but she couldn’t be sure because she’d already covered his mouth with a searing kiss as his hand skirted over the back of her bra.

His hands felt cool against her hot skin, and she wanted him to touch her, touch everywhere because he’d been gone for six days, because he’d been gone for six months, because all she’d wanted for years at this point was for him to touch her like she mattered the most, like he was doing now. It was nothing serious - like he'd said - but that didn't change what this felt like.

If she had the choice to never leave this spot, draped over him and giddy with his hands everywhere, she wasn’t sure she ever would. There could never be too much of a good thing, not when the good thing was doing this with James. And there was only this moment – for a long time, there was only this, and she wished it could stretch on forever.

But when she heard an overture go on a little too long without any dialogue, she was spirited back to the present and she broke away from him slightly to look at the tv behind her. The film credits were rolling. Oh Christ, they’d missed everything and, on top of that, they had definitely been snogging for more than an hour straight.

“I have no idea what that film was about,” she laughed, tucking the hair that had fallen out of her clip behind her ear and turning back to him.

And he laughed too, sounding breathless again. “We’ll just have to watch it again. Soon,” he said, before wrapping both his arms around her waist and pulling her back into him. “You don’t have to go yet, you know,” he murmured against her neck.

“I should,” she said. “In a minute, though. Not yet,” she said, and she felt rather than heard his low laugh against her chest.

It took them more than a minute, but Erin eventually managed to untangle herself from him and set herself as back to right as she could, straightening her clothes and trying to run a hand through her hair before tucking it all back up again in her hair clip. She ought to pop into the toilet to make sure she looked ok before heading home, especially if the way James looked was any indication of her state.

She hoped she could see him like this again as soon as possible – his hair mussed from where her hands had been in it, his eyes dark, and his lips looking very thoroughly kissed. This was the best idea in the world if she got to see him like this again.

He walked her home – actually walked her home – and this time he’d slung an arm around her shoulder, to tuck her into him just perfectly, and he agreed laughingly when she observed how cracker they’d be in a three-legged race, as she timed her steps to his.

And when they arrived at her front steps, and he gave her the happiest smile he’d given all evening - which she thought was really an accomplishment at that point - she was struck with a familiar but delicate thought: she wished she could do this always.

She knew already she wouldn’t get to. Better just to acknowledge that now, no need for any surprises. There was just this summer. She wouldn’t forget that, wouldn’t ever let herself forget it. But still – she wished it.

As she turned towards the darkened doorway of her house and pulled her keys from her bag, for the hundredth time that night she wondered just how very bad an idea all of this was. But, even so, she didn’t really care.