It had been 5 months since the Good Friday Agreement was voted on. James still didn't know why there were tiny brides at Erin and Orla's joint 18th birthday but he's since chosen not to question it.
Clare had already headed off to university, James promising to see her in a week's time when he arrived. Clare would be going to university in London to both no one and everyone's surprise.
James would be leaving Derry next week, to do his undergraduate in history (his filmmaking taking a backseat).
Orla had decided not to go to university, as her step aerobics teacher had promised to give her lessons on teaching.
With Michelle's still working with Dennis at the wee shop.
But today, Erin would be heading to Liverpool with Mary and Gerry to get settled in. Granda Joe would be watching Anna as the parents took their firstborn wain to university.
Tears had already been shed.
Stood on the street as Gerry and Mary sorted out the last of Erin's bags and boxes, were: James, Orla, Michelle and Erin.
They shared a massive group hug, with James' hand resting on the nape of Erin's neck.
Pulling away, there were tears already streaming down Orla's face, as well as Michelle's. James currently only just managed to hold it in.
"Orla," Erin mutters, reaching her hand to wipe away the tears rolling down her cousin's face.
Orla swatted away at Erin's hands, as she slowly composed herself.
Michelle had slowly come to terms with the idea of her boke of an English cousin and one of her oldest friends getting together - but it would still make her boke if they actually did.
James reached over and tightly hugged Erin. "Clare and I are only 3 hours away," James told her, having looked it up on the computer. "Or I'll pay the expensive phone bill whenever we ring," he promises.
"If I'm comin' over to see you as often as you're offerin', ye'll be bokin' at the sight of me," Erin tells him.
James chuckles. "I could never be sick of seeing you, Erin," he states. "I can wait," he reminds her.
Michelle tightly wrapped Erin in a hug, making the blonde swear she wouldn't go riding any English fellas, to which she swore with a silent chuckle with James.
"See ye at Christmas, Erin," Orla said, tightly squeezing her cousin.
"Halloween, Orla. We're going down to London to see Clare," Erin reminded her having put it on the calendar under mammy's nose in August.
It had been one year since Clare's dad died suddenly, Geraldine never really recovered from the loss of her husband - wanting to get out of Derry, with it being a constant reminder of the place she lost him.
For the most part, Clare was the same way - she wanted to get out of the place which constantly reminded her of the death of her daddy (she never did go further than a single kiss with the other lesbian in Derry), but there were still her friends in the town.
But moving to London, the biggest city in the United Kingdom - terrified her, more so than when she moved to Strabane. But at least she had James down the street (literally, he would only be down the hill from her student accommodation).
Clare was terrified, having to come out all over again to a new set of friends.
But at least she'd have James. Their wee English Fella.
Saturday, 31st October 1998
What would be the best night of any young adult's life, was a heavy reminder of the year before for the 5 Derry Girls.
The 3 university students were on a reading week away from studies (Erin had taken the train down to London Saturday morning, and had been spending the week in Clare's room, being shown around the giant city by James - as he joked about he didn't know when London's buildings would be finished).
Michelle and Orla would be heading over Saturday morning to get there as soon as they could with the 11 hour travel time.
Erin woke up first, rolling over and coming nose to nose with Clare who continued to sleep. Because Erin had taken the side of the bed which wasn't fastened to the wall - she was able to get up first.
Erin snuck out of bed and quietly unlocked the door, shuffling into the kitchen in Clare's slippers to make some toast. Because the toaster was by the window, she could see people coming, going and simply passing by - she saw James from the second story window.
"James," she called slightly poking her fingers out the cracked open window - there was no way of pushing it open further.
James raised his hand, and when he pointed to the door, Erin mimed for him to give her a moment, and headed back into Clare's bedroom (who was slowly rousing). Erin gently told her James was here and she was going to drop the keys down to him so he could get in.
Because Clare was half asleep, she didn't really care. Erin snuffled back over to the window, slipping the keys through the crack, and throwing them down as best she can. Somehow, James was able to catch them over the bushes.
A soft knock on the door pulled Erin away from the glass of orange juice she was pouring for Clare. She scooped up the toast and glass, quickly shuffles into Clare's room, put the plate and glass on her desk and then headed to the door and opened the pair.
"Hi," James said, closing both doors behind him, as Erin guides him into the kitchen. "How is she?" He asks.
"She's not really awake yet," Erin said, as she started to butter the recently popped up toast. She handed one slice to James, and slowly started eating the other. "I can't imagine today bein' great..." Erin trails off.
Michelle and Orla arrived at 6 pm, and the group shared a massive group hug - mirroring one they shared exactly a year ago in the hospital.
Orla was still her usual, bubbly self (slightly crazy, but what do you expect from someone from Derry). Orla could barely take everyone's minds away from the fact it had been a year since Clare's da was suddenly snatched away from them.
Michelle wandered back into Clare's room, after dumping an empty bottle in the recycling, to see James and Erin practically sandwiched together, talking quietly among themselves.
James was staring down at Erin with the stars in his eyes and a lovestruck, dopey look in his smile. James Maguire was head over heels for Erin Quinn. Even a blind person could see it!
Thursday, 31st December 1998
New Year's Eve
Erin watched from the sidelines as James had a conversation with Aisling.
A strange surge of jealousy flooded through her, but she didn't know why. She didn't have ownership of the wee English Fella...
"Why do ye keep staring at James?" Michelle asked, opening the bottle of vodka she had brought with her.
"I don't know what ye're talking about," Erin stated, taking a long sip of her drink.
Michelle sighed, for once taking her cousin's feelings into consideration. "Either ye tell him ye feel the same, or ye let him go," Michelle told Erin. "Because he's mental for ye,"
Erin shook her head. "No, he's not,"
Michelle put down her cup and took Erin by the shoulders. "He is. He's mental about ye. I'm pretty sure he loves ye. So, for the sake of him. Ye either tell him, or ye let him go,"
And with that, Michelle walks away, leaving Erin in her head.
Erin stood outside, hoping the fresh air will help with her fuzzy head.
"Erin?" A voice floated through the air, catching the attention of the said young woman.
It was James, having come outside to see if she was ok.
Erin wiped away the tear which had been rolling down her cheek. And turned to face their wee English Fella with a brave face. "Aye, James?" She asked.
But, somehow, James had caught the tear rolling down Erin's cheek. "Are you ok?" He asked, walking closer, and wrapping his fleece-lined denim jacket around her shoulders. "What's the matter? What's happened?"
Erin knew she couldn't drag James along any further. With a new year around the corner, she didn't want James to feel like he had to wait for her...
"I know ye said ye'd wait for me," Erin started.
"And I will," James stated, reaching out to hold Erin's cheek, rubbing it gently with his thumb - which caused more tears to start running down Erin's face.
She shook her head as best she could with James' hand on her face. "I don't want ye to wait. I don't know when..." She trailed off. "I don't want ye to miss out on the world if ye wait,"
Tears were now filling James' eyes. "Stop it, Erin," he gently tells her, nearly refusing to listen.
"What if Michelle was right? What if we got together and broke up? It would split the group in half! It'd tare Clare up worse than the joint 18th with Orla! And what if ye future wife's out there?" Erin asked, her heartbreaking over the idea of someone else loving James.
Erin knows James is her favourite person in the group, in the entirety of Derry. But James has had a long time to think over his feelings and he knows how he feels. Erin had no idea until he admitted his feelings in Donegal, she hasn't had time to think it over.
"Stop it, Erin," James said again, as tears were rolling down his cheeks. "It's you, it's always been you and it always been you," he tells her.
Erin sniffled from somewhere deep in her throat and looked up at James. "Ye are going to do one thing. Find someone who isn't a mental Derry girl, and be happy," Erin tells him.
James shakes his head, refusing to take this. He would never give up the idea of Erin and him, he'd been pining for her for so long. It wasn't going to change.
What they didn't know was as they were talking, the clock was ticking to the new year.
Erin got up on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to James' cheek.
"Happy New Year!" The people in Jenny Joyce's house exclaimed, but their two heartbroken young adults who stood outside against the house couldn't see how it would be a 'happy new year'.
Saturday, 1st January 2000
New Year's Day
Erin woke up in her bed (thankfully!) popping her head up and seeing Clare and Orla laying on her bed. She slowly got up from bed, seeing James and Michelle sleeping on the floor.
She shuffles down the stairs in the house she now shares with Liz, Soph and Ellie from her first year. Those three girls were her friends, but unlike her Derry Girls - they were her family.
She went down the stairs, seeing someone laying on the sofa snoozing.
Erin looks confused at the human-shaped lump, hearing the floorboards creaking on the staircase. She pulled her gaze away from the sofa lump to see James wandering along the corridor and towards the kitchen, followed by Ellie.
"Who's the fella belong to?" Erin whispers when James and Ellie are within earshot.
James is taken back to his first school day in Derry, hanging behind Michelle as a confused Englishman looking around the country he had never stepped foot in until his mother carted him to Ireland.
"I have no idea," Ellie said, shrugging her shoulders - as did James.
They eventually learned the fella currently sleeping on the sofa was someone Lisa had brought home and then abandoned on the sofa.
Everything was silent and awkward between James and Erin for the past year after Erin decided to let him go. Even though she had told him to move on and find someone else.
But neither have them have found a date since New Year's Eve/Day of 1998/99.
The Derry Girls pushed themselves through 3 years of university and finally graduated.
James watched from the sidelines (his own graduation under his belt) as Erin walked along the stage and received her diploma.
With the caps thrown in the air, Erin watched from her space on the ground as her family made their way down to greet her.
"Well done, love," Gerry said, being the first person to reach Erin - and he pulled her into a tight hug.
"Thank you, daddy," Erin said into Gerry's shoulder.
The next ones to hug her were Mary, Granda Joe and Anna (at the same time), then a group hug by Orla, Michelle, Clare and James.
James kept his hand on the lower part of her back. When Michelle wasn't looking, James pulled her into a hug of his own.
Erin was holding him by the shoulders by going under his armpits, her diploma in one hand and her cap in the other. Erin's head was resting in the crook of his neck as her eyes slid closed.
It had been a long time since she was last wrapped up in James' arms. She can't remember the last time she hugged James as warmly as this. It must have been before she told him to move on, on New Year's Eve 1998.
She pulled away and gave James a little bit of a forced smile as she stared up at him.
"Congrats, Erin," he says quietly, his hand coming up to rest on her cheek - but it never did as he put it back down against his side.
Every two years, when either the summer or the winter Olympics rolled around none of the Derry Girls (save for James) knew who to cheer for.
James always cheered for Great Britain, he was always glared at by either Michelle or Erin's granda.
But recently, Erin's granda had been complaining about his chest - which was worrying the family.
Orla always cheered for whoever was in the first place, whether it be the United States or Australia. She just liked to see people win.
Clare never truly paid attention, even as Michelle went on and on about how the athletes were such rides.
The group were squished together on the sofa at Michelle and Orla's place in Donemana (which was closer to Strabane than Derry) having watched the opening ceremony at Erin's - whilst also keeping an eye on her granda.
Every time granda Joe moved in his seat and let out a heavy huff, Erin's eyes would swiftly move from the telly to her granda. A few times, she would speak up and ask if he was ok.
Whenever Erin would look over at her granda, James would look down at Erin, worry evident all over his face (every time Michelle glanced over at James). She would never say anything to James about this.
As they sat in Michelle and Orla's place, Erin was typing away at her computer - working on her novel (which James pushed her to work on whenever they were around).
They had already argued over which sport they were going to be watching (Orla wanted to watch anything to do with horses, Michelle wanted to watch either the swimming or the diving, James wanted to watch the volleyball, and Clare wanted to watch the gymnastics, whereas Erin didn't care what they watched, it had been a long time since they'd hung out like this).
Every time Erin would stop typing to think, James would glance over at her - make sure she's ok, and (when needed) would have her laptop shoved over into her hands.
Even when Erin was typing away on her computer, she knew James was watching her from the corner of her eye. It made her heart break, as it looked like James was still clinging to the idea of them getting together - but she was still figuring out her feelings.
She knew James had come around to the idea of them fairly quickly, but it was something she was currently struggling with (compared to the other guys she's had crushes on). When she thinks of James, there were butterflies fluttering around in her stomach, but it was overshadowed by the feeling of almost dread - the idea of her dating James and then breaking up, would split the entire group in half.
Like how Michelle pointed it out, after their first kiss in Donegal.
Nearly 15 years. That's how long she has known James Z Maguire.
And it had taken her 6 years to realise what she felt for him. By then they were full-fledged adults, expected to know everything they were going to do in life.
The years following 23, were filled with tears and laughter - as Erin and Orla's granda had a heart attack (and didn't make it). Michelle lost her mind when she found out Take That had gotten back together. The lunar eclipse of 2007 drew the entire group out of Clare's flat watching it as the shadow of the Earth covered the moon, dusting the moon red.
And now it was 2009. As they neared Anna Quinn's 18th birthday.
Everything was being prepared for the youngest Quinn daughter's birthday, and it took everything back for Erin - remembering her own, somewhat, disastrous party.
Erin smiled from the sidelines as Anna pushed the banner higher and higher with her words as their father struggled on the ladders. "It's the highest I can go, love," Gerry called to his youngest.
"Takes you back, doesn't it?" Came the voice of James, who nearly made Erin jump out of her skin. The curly haired now man, had grown into his features and his unruly hair.
The group didn't get together as often as they used to with jobs and actual families - in, surprisingly, Michelle's case - taking most of their time.
Erin had finally become a published author, despite Michelle's complaints about the romance novels, they were actually fairly sweet. Whenever she worked on her novels, she imagined the characters as her and James.
Clare had become a lawyer. A fairly successful one, winning most of her cases as she refused to represent anything to do with murders.
Orla was a step aerobics teacher at the dance hall in Derry, having moved into the house next door to her ma's, who still lived next door to Gerry and Mary.
Michelle was still at Dennis' little shop (but it had more or less been handed over to her, as Dennis was getting closer to retirement), whilst also being a single ma to her little girl, Deidre Junior - with the nickname DJ.
And finally James, he was a budding filmmaker - not Hollywood big, he was becoming well known in the United Kingdom.
The entire group were happily dancing on the floor, Erin watching as Anna and her friend group stupidly danced to the music played by the DJ.
Michelle was dancing around with DJ, and Orla was dancing around by herself. Clare was dancing with her girlfriend, as Erin was spun around by Gerry.
When Gerry spun her out, he let go of her hand and sent her spinning into James' arms.
"Hi," James smiled, holding Erin by her waist.
"Hi," Erin replied, gripping onto the sides of James' shoulders.
They were silent as the song finished, and was changed to Proud Mary by Tina Turner. Which took James and Erin back to the joint birthday party of 1998.
"Still remember it?" James asked about the dance moves they pulled, which were living forever in his mind.
"Yeah," Erin said, but before James could drag her onto the dancefloor. "James, can I talk to ye? Outside?" Erin asked him.
James nodded, only a little bit scared - because the last time Erin talked to him outside, she told him to move on (which he never truly did, only going on a few dates ever since and neither of their relationships lasting longer than a few months...)
The door closing behind them, both James and Erin's hearts were in their throats.
"What is it?" James asked, fiddling with his fingers, waiting for Erin to talk.
She looked up at James, was about to speak - when the butterflies overcame her again, but it wasn't followed by the terror. She continued to stare up at him before she took him by his face and kissed him.
James was stunned for a second, before kicking himself and responding. It had been a long time since he'd last kissed someone. And even longer since he'd last kissed Erin.
When they pulled away, James rested his hands against her face. "What was that about?" He asked, tucking a lock behind her ear.
"I don't want to wait anymore," she tells him and watches as James' eyes widened and started shining with unshed tears.
"Really?" James whispered, shuffling closer to her, as his forehead pressed against hers.
She nodded, and James kissed her again. His biggest dream since he was 17 coming true. Hopefully, he had won the heart of his dream girl.