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Love to Love You

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James had thought she was pretty the first time he saw her. Before Michelle yelled out to them, before Erin had asked who owned him and Orla had been thoroughly lost by his accent. Pretty but a tiny bit mean. Not Michelle mean, but certainly not as kind as Clare would turn out to be or even Orla, whose kindness was arguably unintentional. He very quickly realised Erin was a lot of things. She was stubborn, a little arrogant, creative, a little mental, funny and definitely more naïve about the world then she would admit to anyone. She was also the only one who ever seemed to be able to rein Michelle in, even if only a little, which he appreciated. But he had also relieved himself in a waste paper basket that first day they met, when he had thought she was pretty, and he was certain he would only ever be a friend to Erin after that. Besides, he had noted that Clare and Orla were both rather pretty too, in their own ways. Noticing, acknowledging, that she was a pretty girl, didn’t mean James fancied Erin.
The first moment he had really felt anything for Erin was when Toto had died…or at least, when Ma Mary had told Erin that he did. They’d been studying, well he and Clare had been, and she’d moped about, going over how unfair it was and holding that picture in her hands. Even though it seemed like she was exaggerating maybe hoping it would mean she could get out of the exam, James could tell she really was hurting. It was in the silences, in the moments she thought her friends were too busy to pay attention to the few tears that managed to slip down her cheek. He wanted to hope up on the bed beside her and hug her, holding her tightly until she felt better. Of course, he would have done that for any of the girls if they were sad, probably even Michelle. That’s what he told himself.
The second moment was when Katya had come. It wasn’t so much that he felt anything for Erin then, more so that he was just a little pleased Erin was jealous. He didn’t really know whether it was her being jealous of Katya or that Katya had chosen James. He wasn’t even sure Erin knew the answer to that. But even when she had gotten them kicked out of Jenny’s party and insulted Katya so deeply she would never speak to any of them again, including him, something about the way she’d cared so much made him feel special. It crossed his mind that he wouldn’t have minded Erin being in Katya’s place. And then he told himself that was a ridiculous thought and unless he wanted to be murdered (either by Michelle or Granda Joe), he’d never think like that again.
The third moment was the day of the bombing, the day Orla had performed on at the school talent show. He’d been frustrated with her after the way she’d reacted to Clare coming out. When Clare had told them, he actually believed Erin had reacted in that way, mostly because while he knew she acted worldly and understanding, she wasn’t always quite so good at putting that into practice. But he’d also seen how upset Erin was, that she clearly felt badly for her reaction and wanted to make things right. Even still, he’d gone off to sit with Clare, knowing Michelle would always choose Erin and that Orla was off preparing her talent – she’d refused to tell them what she was doing. When Orla had started her step aerobics routine and the other students had laughed and teased, he had tried to sink into himself. He wished he could make it stop for Orla.
“She might be a dick,” he heard Erin saying loudly. “But she’s my dick!” And then Clare stood up beside him and said “She’s our dick!” He’d watched the girls look at each other and nod, then make their way to the stage. Michelle had cursed at them but followed and James knew he had to join them too. And as he danced up there with Erin, he realised he was proud of her and that he admired her, the way she was always there when you really needed her. He told himself, one day, he’d make sure he repaid that.
But the moment that really sealed it for him, made him realise he might just be in love with a particular Derry Girl, was the night of Prom. And it wasn’t because he felt good about being able to be her knight in shining armour, although he did feel good about it. It was the way she’d smiled when she asked about his Doctor Who (creep, as he’d said) convention. The way she didn’t seem disappointed that it was James at the door instead of John Paul. When she’d gone off to change and come back in the Easter dress, because James was comfortable. And then when she’d taken his arm, squeezed against him happily on her way to the dance. After they’d been, for lack of a better term, Carrie’d, Erin had still willing danced with James while Michelle begrudgingly danced with Clare and Orla happily continued to dance with Granda Joe.
He had wanted to tell her how he felt when he had decided to leave but it had all been so sudden. He didn’t want to tell her in front of everyone, and even if he did, he had no idea what he could say that would be fair followed up by “Oh and I’m leaving.” He was grateful in the end that he hadn’t told her, because he’d decided to stay after all. Michelle’s words had hit home and he couldn’t get Erin’s face out of his mind. Now though he knew he fancied Erin and he had no idea what to do about that.

* * * * * * * *

Erin could honestly say she’d never really noticed James until the night he’d turned up on her doorstep. The thing was Katya had been odd, and she still couldn’t entirely explain to herself what had made her react in such a way, because really why should it matter to her who wanted to ride James. But that night, as she’d sat there and hated herself for not just going with Clare like she’d promised to do in the first place, Erin had felt more alone than she thought was possible. Resigning herself to the fact she would just be missing out on Prom, she had left her family in the kitchen to go and take off the monstrosity of a dress she had thought would be cool and trendy enough for John Paul. He had been dating a model before her after all. She heard the doorbell just as she passed by the door and with a quick check to make sure the tears she could feel coming hadn’t actually made a mark on her face, she had opened the door to see James. Somehow in that moment, it didn’t feel wrong or strange that it was James. She didn’t want it to be John Paul standing there, and she didn’t want to be in this stupid fancy dress. She just wanted to be with James. He was safe, comfortable, family almost. But also decidedly not family.
It was when he’d pulled her into dance, the pair of them covered in tomato juice (and not thankfully pigs’ blood), that she’d realised perhaps she felt something more than friendly for James Maguire. The song was slow, enough that she could comfortably rest her head against his shoulder as they swayed to the music. Orla was dancing with Granda, either unaware or uncaring about the rest of them. Michelle, having given up on the boys who’d left her behind, danced with Clare. Although it was more Michelle stood at arm’s distance because she was already up for murder for the dress she couldn’t return, she wasn’t taking the chance of Clare’s also being ruined. Erin had noticed that she could, just barely, hear the beating of James’ heart. He held her waist and a little part of her wanted to reach back and move his hands just a little lower. If the song hadn’t ended at that moment, Erin was almost certain she could have, would have, kissed him. But it did end and Orla joined them, complaining that there were not enough sweets. Michelle was still ranting about why they had even bothered to try to help Jenny and poor Clare just listened and took the verbal assault despite having played very little part in the whole thing. Suddenly, they were all heading home and Prom was over.
The moment he’d told them all he was leaving, Erin had understood how deeply her feelings went for this English fella she’d barely known just over a year ago. If she thought she understood heartbreak when John Paul had stood her up, it was nothing to the crushing feeling she had as he walked away from them. Michelle had gone after him, and it was a good thing she had, because Erin was frozen. Never before had Erin been unable to find words but in that moment she wished she was anywhere but in the middle of that huge crowd. If she was wishing, she wished she was with James, hand in hand. Worse, she was so certain he had felt something for her too but he mustn’t have if he was able to walk away so easily without even a proper goodbye. As she tried to imagine Derry without him, Orla had said she could see him and when they realised she didn’t mean Clinton they’d all turned to see Orla was talking about James. As happy as she was that he was back, that he was staying, Erin hated that she now had no idea where she stood when it came to him. And so she tried to push the feelings she was becoming more and more aware of aside. Just be his friend, she told herself. But she was finding that increasingly harder to accomplish.

Chapter Text

Orla was about as into putting the Christmas decorations up as Anna was, Erin hoisting her little sister up onto her shoulders so the toddler could hang shiny baubles on the branches. Ma Mary and Gerry had gone out to buy more things for the Christmas cupboard, as if anything more could fit inside there, as well as all the trimmings they’d need for a cracking Christmas Day. Orla was arguing with Erin about whether it should be Anna or herself who placed the star on top of the tree when the doorbell rang.
“Orla, why don’t you go get the door?” Erin smiled.
“You just want me to get it so you win and Anna can put the star on,” Orla frowned at her cousin.
“Where are those brains at school?” Erin teased as she lifted the toddler up and watched her slide the star on to the top of the tree. “Besides, she’s done it now.”
“Ach, you always ruin my fun,” said Orla as she stomped out of the room towards the door. As soon as it opened she heard a cheery “Merry Christmas Motherfuckers!” and knew exactly who would follow Orla back into the house. Michelle came first, wearing clothes that did not seem warm enough for the cold weather, her cheeks and nose a little red. Clare and James were behind her and Erin noticed he wore the Doctor Who Scarf again.
“So I’ve got some eggnog for ya know, Clare and some let’s say spicy eggnog for the rest of us,” Michelle announced as she flopped onto the lounge, two cartons in her hand. “And by spicy I mean…”
“For the last time Michelle, we always know what you mean,” James groaned. Erin smiled, thinking of all the times James must have felt awkward or down right disgusted at his cousin. And for once, Michelle didn’t keep talking. Although that might have had more to do with the large swig of eggnog she had taken from one of the cartons.
“Why only me?” Clare asked innocently.
“Cause I knew you’d prattle off about it having alcohol and I didn’t feel like listening to it. The rest of them won’t care. They’ll even share it with me, won’t ya Orla? James? Erin?”
“Michelle, there is a toddler here. I’ve got to watch her,” Erin sighed, looking flustered at the knowledge that Michelle would likely get her into trouble…again. “And Mammy will be home soon and if she finds…”
“Our parents never said oh no I’d better not drink with the wains around,” Michelle laughed as she interrupted Erin. “Besides Clare can watch Anna. Clare’s good at watching everything happen around her. And it’ll be finished before ya Ma comes back.”
“What is with you going after Clare today?” James asked, watching the blonde girl’s face scrunch up in anger. “Does she owe you a couple pounds or something?”
“I only tease because I love,” Michelle replied, not that Clare felt like that made it okay. But as usual, she didn’t say anything. What was the point when it came to Michelle? “So what, no one is sharing with me then?”
“Christ Michelle, sometimes I think we should actually worry about you,” Erin groaned. “Go and tip it out.”
“I will not waste it like that,” Michelle said, taking another big swig. Honestly, Erin wasn’t even sure she liked eggnog in the first place. But she couldn’t actually stop Michelle. Nobody could.
Without realising it, Erin had found herself sitting on the carpet beside James, so close and yet not quite touching each other. Orla was sprawled out on the floor, throwing pieces of popcorn into the air and into her mouth. Michelle sipped on her eggnog and stretched out across the lounge while Clare read a book to herself, sitting in one of the armchairs. Erin couldn’t see the title of the book so she wasn’t sure what it was. Anna had fallen asleep across Erin’s outstretched legs and Erin envied the toddler for being able to just sleep anywhere and through anything.
“Your Ma’s been a while,” James said as he looked over at the clock on the wall.
“She’s probably dragging Da to a hundred different stores looking for just the right thing. She’s very fussy about Christmas. It’s got to be done perfectly.”
“My mum didn’t really make Christmas’ like…a big thing. My step dad tried dressing up as Santa when I was 6 or 7 and I screamed and hid in my room so they tell me. They stopped after that, just some gifts and a little family dinner,” James told her.
“Last year must have been a real shock for you then,” Clare piped up. “A good ol’ Derry Christmas with the Mallons.”
“It was…eventful,” James laughed. “Much crazier than I’m used to.”
“Actually, it was rather subdued for a Mallon Christmas,” Michelle added. “Not that you’d know that dicko.”
“Aye, thanks Michelle,” James replied with a sigh. He shifted in his spot and his hand brushed against Erin’s. Her eyes met his for a moment, like she was trying to determine if this was okay or not, and then she looked down at her sleeping sister. Her hand stayed where it was and he wondered if maybe she didn’t react because she wanted him to keep his hand there. But he was nervous and unsure, and surrounded by 3 girls who would tease him mercilessly if he admitted his feeling for Erin, so he moved his hand back to his side.
When Erin’s legs fell asleep because her sister, she finally had to move. She gently rolled Anna off her and then picked her up, carrying her upstairs to Anna’s bedroom. She put the little girl in the cot that was almost now too small for her and thought about the moment she’d met her. Anna had been so tiny, blue eyes that resembled Erin’s own staring up at her. She hadn’t been sure how she felt about having a sibling, especially given that she was nearly 14 at the time. But seeing her, she was certain it was a good thing. Erin still thought that about her as she tiptoed out and gently shut the door.
“Are you lost up there or what?” Michelle boomed, her voice travelling through the house. Erin didn’t dare yell back in case it woke Anna. She loved her sister, but it was nice that the little girl still had a nap during the day. She didn’t want it spoiled.
Erin glared at Michelle when she got back to the lounge room but either Michelle didn’t see or didn’t care. Either could have been the case. James had moved, now standing between the lounge and kitchen with a glass of water in his hand. She wasn’t even thinking when she found that she had gone to the tap, filled a glass and stood beside him.
“Okay,” she said quietly to him as they looked at the other three girls. “Best Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten?”
“Oh that’s easy,” James smiled. “My step dad got me this scarf for Christmas when I was 13. I really liked Tom Baker’s doctor, they were my favourite episodes. Plus when he gave it to me, he remarked how now I’d be able to dress up on our Doctor Who nights and it was the fact that he cared, that he wanted to spend time with me. Especially cause I knew he wasn’t my real dad, ya know? What about you?”
Erin thought for a moment. She’d been given a lot of good gifts but the best gift she’d ever gotten…she wasn’t entirely sure. “I think it would have to be my first diary. Mammy bought it for me when I was 10, said she was sick of listening to me go on so she bought someone else for me to talk to.”
“That doesn’t sound particularly happy,” James laughed, which made Michelle look at the pair of them and raise an eyebrow.
“No but later when I was writing in it, I heard Dad say to her that he thought maybe I’d grow up to be a writer. And Mammy had looked over at me sitting at that table and asked me what I was writing about. And I think she realised she actually quite liked listening to me natter on.”
“Can we do something?” Michelle interrupted before James could respond. “Oh and we should do a Secret Santa thing this year! Like Christmas Eve, get together and make a mini Christmas dinner then each girl gets another girl and we have to guess who bought the gift. It’ll be a right craic.”
“Are you offering to cook?” Erin asked, trying not to laugh at the idea.
“Oh no. Clare and you can do that,” Michelle smiled. “I’ll get the vodka.”
“Vodka isn’t very Christmas-y,” Clare said.
“Well it’s easy to get ain’t it?”
“I hope someone buys me a big bag of Pick n Mix,” Orla stated to no one in particular.
“You’ll turn into a Pick n Mix,” Erin teased under her breath but it made James laugh. She liked that she had made him laugh. It made her feel light and happy.
“I need a new dress, or someone could buy me back into Finnoula’s good graces so I can go to the bloody chippy again,” Michelle added.
“For once Michelle, I actually think you’ve got a good idea,” James asked. “Where will we have it?”
“Ours. I’ll tell Ma. I’m pretty sure she’s got a shift on Christmas Eve anyway and Da probably does too not that I’ve asked him. He usually does,” Michelle said. “So we can have the house just to us.”
“Are we all in?” Clare asked, looking at the girls. They nodded, including James, and then they had to write names and draw one each. Erin smiled to herself when she saw that her paper had James name messily scrawled on it. And that was the moment her parents arrived home.
“Erin, will you come and help…” Ma Mary started as she walked in with some groceries. When she saw the other teenagers she smiled and rephrased. “All of you wains, go help Gerry with the car.” And they all did exactly as they were told.


Erin held his present in her hands as she walked with Orla and Clare to the Mallon’s house. She shivered, despite the warm jacket wrapped around her, and was ready to get back inside. Mammy had said Erin could go, so long as she was back by 11 so she didn’t miss the start of Christmas Day. Orla swung the bag she held and Erin wondered who she’d picked. She couldn’t imagine be sure, since she hadn’t seen what was in the bag and Orla had bought it when she was out with her Ma the weekend before. Clare had a present that was in a long, slim bag and Erin had to guess that Clare had picked Michelle though she was surprised Clare would have bought anything alcoholic. Then again, Clare could have put something in it deliberately to mislead Michelle. Erin tried to ignore the nervous feeling in her stomach as they reached the Mallon’s. She wondered if James would even like this gift. It wasn’t much, and it was second hand but…it was the best she could afford. She suddenly wished she’d picked out anybody else’s name.
“Motherfuckers,” Michelle said, her smile wide when she opened the door for them. They shuffled in and Erin gladly shrugged off her jacket. “Come on. Let’s do present first!”
“Can we maybe start preparing the food first?” Clare suggested as she walked towards the kitchen. “I doubt you’ve done anything to help.”
“Aye, it’s probably not the worst idea to let them at least get some of the food into the oven and cooking before we do present,” James said, smiling at Erin. Her face felt hot and she ducked her head, hoping she wasn’t blushing as much as she thought she was.
“Argh, fine. Orla have you got any Pick n Mix?” Michelle asked, focusing her attention away and Erin and Clare started unpacking the ingredients James had kindly made sure to buy for the dinner.
“Of course,” Orla said, pulling a bag from her pocket and handing it to Michelle, who grabbed a small handful and followed the rest of them into the kitchen.

With the roast in the oven, mostly thanks to Clare, and a glass of coke for each of them (Michelle may have added some rum to hers) they sat in a circle on the carpet in the lounge room, the gifts having been all placed in the middle.
“Alright, I’m going to be Santa,” Michelle announced. “I’ll say your name, and you have to guess who you think had you. Then I’ll give you the present and you can have another guess. If you guess correctly, you get nothing but the knowledge you are better than other people. If you guess wrong, you lose your present.”
“That’s not how the game works Michelle,” Clare reminded her. But Michelle already had a gift in her hand. Erin recognised it immediately as the one Orla had bought. Which made it easy to guess when Michelle handed it to Erin.
“I think…” Erin said, pretending she had no idea. “I think this might be from Orla.”
“You cheated,” Orla pouted.
“Sorry! I couldn’t help that I had to walk here with you,” Erin told her cousin. “But I’m sure it’ll be a great gift,” she added as she riffled through tissue paper to find a very familiar book at the bottom of the bag. “You got me my own diary for Christmas!”
“And I won’t read it ever again,” Orla said. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Well, I guess that’s something to be grateful for,” Erin laughed, holding the diary.
“Next then. Oh, this one,” Michelle said, grabbing the little present Erin had brought. “James, it’s for you.”
“Hmmm,” James said as he gently turned it over in his hands. “Clare maybe?”
Nobody said anything so he tore open the paper and smiled. “No, this isn’t a Clare gift. This had to be Erin,” he laughed.
“Aye,” Erin said, and she was both happy and surprised that he had so easily known it was her who had brought it. The second hand book had taken ages to find, a Doctor Who story featuring Tom Baker’s doctor, the one with the scarf. It had only cost 2 pound, but she thought he’d like it. He was already opening in and flicking through it.
“Thanks Erin,” he told her with a smile. “It’s a great gift.” James wanted to say more, tell her he loved it, that it was by far, one of the best gifts he’d ever gotten. Not because it had cost a lot, she’d left the sticker from the second hand bookstore on the inside cover by accident, but because he knew she had thought about him when she bought it. But he couldn’t make himself say it in front of the others. Later. He’d tell her later.
“Next then!” Michelle yelled, grabbing the gift James had brought for Orla. He had no idea what he should buy her but he’d gone with something safe. “Orla, it’s for you. Who do you think?”
“Santa, obviously,” Orla said, taking the gift from Michelle.
“Orla, Santa is a part of this,” Erin reminded her. But Orla wasn’t listening. She was already opening the lolly jewellery and placing it around her wrist and over her neck.
“Oh right. Well, um Clare then,” Orla said as she bit off some of the candy. “This is cracking, by the way. I was nearly out of Pick n Mix. There is so much in here.”
“Wasn’t me, though I probably would’ve bought the same thing,” Clare laughed.
“Gotta give it back then Orla,” Michelle said, pretending to take it from the girl. Orla growled at her and Michelle dropped it. “Right well, that was normal. Onwards. Clare this is for you,” Michelle said.
“Okay, so it can’t have been Erin, or Orla, and I’d bet James got Orla’s gift so…it must have been you Michelle,” Clare smiled, taking the box. She opened it and let out a little gasp. “Oh no, I can’t take this.”
“Why not?” Michelle asked, genuinely looking surprised at her friend’s reaction. “Oh,” she realised, “no I didn’t knick Ma’s credit card this time. I did some … jobs for some people and I earned the money. I swear on Toto’s grave!”
“He’s not actually dead Michelle,” Erin chimed in. “What is it Clare?”
Clare held up a beautiful deep blue dress, similar to the one she’d worn to Prom but more casual. It did look rather expensive.
“Swear to me you earned the money yourself,” Clare demanded.
“I swear,” Michelle said. “Just accept it would ya?! Now onto the last gift, and this one must be for me!”
“It’s not much,” Clare said, clearly anxious now that Michelle had gotten her something so thoughtful, that she’d actually worked for.
Michelle pulled out the bottle of wine and laughed. “You actually bought this. How’d you manage that without ID Miss Devlin?”
“Look, just appreciate that I bought it. It’s actually a decent bottle but don’t waste it. It’s supposed to be special,” Clare sighed.
“We can share it tonight then,” Michelle announced. “A glass each!”

Erin had stayed later to help clean up after the party, since Michelle was drunk enough to be no help and it didn’t seem fair to leave it up to James. Clare had to leave earlier, her mother had given her a curfew of 10pm, and Orla had offered to go with her so she wouldn’t have to walk alone. And that was how Erin ended up washing dishes while James dried them and they both listened to Michelle sing along to the radio at the top of her lungs.
“It’s 10:30, should you be heading off now,” James said, gesturing to the clock above the doorway.
“I’ll just do the last couple of dishes and I’ll go. Mammy will be fine, she knows I’m never on time anyway. So 11 really means before midnight,” Erin replied, handing him a plate to dry.
“I meant to thank you,” James said softly, his heart felt like it was beating in his throat and not his chest.
“Thank me for what?’ Erin asked.
“The gift,” he told her. “I loved it. You must have really thought about it.”
“Not really,” Erin shrugged but she wanted to admit that she had spent hours searching through shelves to find it. She’d noticed it on display in the window a few days earlier but she needed to do some chores round the house before Mammy would give her the money for it. And then it wasn’t in the window. The shop assistant insisted it hadn’t been sold, it was just on one of them shelves somewhere.
“Oh,” James said and Erin wanted to take her words back. He seemed suddenly hurt, disappointed in her.
“I didn’t mean…” Erin tried to explain, but she couldn’t find the words. She’d never had trouble finding words when it came to James but now…it was like everything in her mind had just gone.
“It’s alright,” he said. “Come on, I’ll walk you home.”

James watched Erin walk just in front of him and he saw her hugging herself in the cold weather, her denim jacket clearly not cutting it out in the night air.
“Here,” he said, taking off his scarf and wrapping it around her neck.
“I’m fine,” she tried to insist, but her lips trembled from the cold.
“Liar,” he laughed. “You only get it for the walk anyway.”
“James, about earlier…I’m glad you liked the gift. I wanted you to have a good Christmas this year and I know it’s probably not the most exciting gift but I thought you’d like it because of that story you told me with your step dad…” Erin found now she couldn’t make the words stop.
“I got you something,” James interrupted and Erin was grateful he’d stopped her before she said something embarrassing.
“You weren’t supposed to,” Erin scolded. “That’s not how Secret Santa works.”
“Nobody has to know about it except you and me,” James insisted, taking the long thin box from his jacket pocket as they stopped out the front of her house. Erin opened it to see an old fashioned quill pen and a little ink pot. She felt tears well up in her eyes.
“Damn it James,” she said.
“What?” he asked so innocently that she found herself crying and laughing at the same time.
“It’s perfect,” she told him, closing the lid on the box and reaching to take off the scarf. He reached out a hand and stopped her.
“Keep it,” he told her. “Just for the next couple of days mind. I’ll want it back next time I see you.”
“Okay,” Erin nodded. They stood for a moment awkwardly on the doorstep and then the door opened behind them.
“What time do you bloody call this then? It’s 11:30 Erin. Christ, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you. I’ll be buying you a watch for Christmas and setting an alarm on…Oh hi James,” Mary ranted, only noticing the boy at the last second.
“Hi Mrs Quinn,” James said. “Sorry Erin was helping me tidy up.”
“If only you’d do that here,” she told her daughter. “Well come on in then, it’s freezing out there. Are you coming in James?”
“No thank you. I best get back to Michelle,” he smiled. “Merry Christmas Mrs. Quinn.”
“You too love,” Ma Mary said as she motioned with her head for Erin to get inside. Erin followed and the door shut behind her. James turned to leave and walked back out onto the street, suddenly missing the warmth of the girl beside him. He heard the door open and turned to see Erin running back out.
“James,” she called, and stopped in front of him. “Merry Christmas,” she said, quickly kissing his cheek and smiling at him before she ran back inside. A warmth James had never felt before filled him and stayed with him all the way home. Once again, he was glad he’d made the choice to stay behind in Derry.

Chapter Text

James was surprised the next morning that the rest of the family actually let him lie in until nearly 9am.
“Get up ya dick, its motherfucking Christmas!” Michelle yelled as she repeatedly kicked his bed frame.
“Language Michelle,” Deidre bellowed from downstairs but she may as well have been speaking French for all it made a difference. She often wondered how she ended up with the coarse, rough on the outside, barely controllable teen girl while her sister Kathy, despite herself, ended up with a kind, gentle boy for a son. Even if he was English.
“How are you not hungover…and still asleep?” James asked, rubbing his eyes. “And will you stop kicking my bed. Please.”
“You were so cheery last night,” Michelle moaned. “What happened to that James?!”
He wanted to tell her that the cheery James from the evening before had gotten a perfect gift from a perfect girl, that she had worn and kept his scarf, that she had kissed him, if only on the cheek. He also wanted to mention that he would be more cheery if he weren’t woken violently nearly every morning by possibly the worst cousin imaginable. Instead he just groaned and tossed back the blankets.
“Come on,” Michelle insisted. “Da wants to have a family breakfast before we do gifts. And I want gifts. So shift it.”
“Have you ever considered…I don’t know, asking nicely for the things you want?” James grumbled as he searched the pile of laundry on the floor beside his bed for a sweater that was clean. “And maybe getting out while so I can get dressed.”
Michelle bowed out but not before giving him the finger, and he was left to his own thoughts. He found a grey sweater that smelled and looked clean enough. He pulled it on and found his hand drifted to his cheek. He was certain he had already gotten the only Christmas gift worth giving a damn about. But he also wasn’t stupid and facing Michelle if she didn’t get her way was not a reality he cared to test. He let the thought go, chose a pair of trousers and decided that for just today he could not think about Erin. Today he would just enjoy another Mallon Christmas.

“Erin?” James called, when a couple of days later he saw a familiar figure coming out of a store with her family. He had come out to look at that second hand bookstore, wondering if he might chance upon a few other Doctor Who books like the one Erin had bought him. Michelle had refused to come when he’d mentioned he was just going to look for books. Now he was glad it was just him.
“Hi James,” Erin said brightly when she turned and saw him. She had thought about him over the past few days, wondered if kissing his cheek had been okay. He was a friend though. You can kiss a friend on the cheek.
“Hi love, have a good Christmas?” Ma Mary asked James. She already held several shopping bags and it seemed quite obvious she intended to shop for quite a bit more time. She’d bought the whole family, like a little army, to help.
“Yes Mrs. Quinn. Thanks for asking,” James responded. He looked at Erin again, not sure how to ask her if she wanted to come and look at the bookstore with him.
“Mammy, can you spare me for a bit?” Erin asked, and James realised he didn’t need to worry. He had to appreciate that Erin had a knack for guessing what he was thinking.
Mary looked between her daughter and James. She had already suspected something more than just friendship between the pair of them, they always seemed to find each other in that group. But if Erin insisted on chasing after boys, at least James seemed a decent fella. And he had been her knight in shining armour, sans the actual armour, for Prom, which Mary deeply appreciated.
“Sure love, be back in an hour though you hear,” Mary told Erin. Erin handed the two bags she was caring to Gerry, who passed one straight off to Orla.
“Can I come?” Orla asked, and both Erin and James shared another look. It wasn’t that he disliked Orla, he just had hoped for a bit of time to spend with just Erin.
“Not today, I need at least one strong, young lady to carry all this gear,” Gerry said. He too had noticed how James looked at Erin. It reminded him of himself as a younger lad, he just hoped James realised what he was getting into. Erin was no easy girl to be around, not that he didn’t love his eldest daughter with all his heart. Orla shrugged, seemingly not particularly bothered, and Erin heard her mention something about going to get some sweets then if she had to do all the carrying.

“So what exactly is your Ma buying?” James asked when they were out of earshot, walking down the street.
“Christmas bargains,” Erin laughed. “That’s why we need a Christmas cupboard. She stocks up when everything is reduced so she spends less. She does this every year. It’s as much of a tradition as Christmas itself.”
“How was your Christmas?” James asked. She was walking right beside him and he could so easily just graze her hand, take it in his. What if she pulled away though? It was better to not.
“Lovely,” Erin replied, watching James awkwardly stuff his hands into his pockets. She thought maybe she shouldn’t have kissed his cheek after all if he was going to make it this big of a deal. The whole point was that whatever these feelings were, they didn’t ruin their friendship. “Plus Anna’s getting to that stage where she is kind of understanding the whole thing, that the gifts are for her and that Santa and the reindeer come. It’s refreshing watching her childish wonder about it all. Like decorating the house even. And the first time we turned on the Christmas lights, her eyes almost fell out of her head. What about yours?”
“About the same,” James told her. “Less exciting because there’s no wee little siblings running about the house but then again, it did mean I got time to actually read the book you got me on Christmas Day. Actually, that’s what I was coming out here for, thought I might be able to find a few other Doctor Who books. The one you got me was grand.”
Erin blushed, looking at the ground even though she felt rather proud of herself for finding something he had liked so much. “Oh, your scarf! I didn’t bring it with me, I didn’t think I was going to see you so...You can come by later and grab it if you like.”
“You can keep hold of it a bit longer,” James told her with a smile. “On the condition you wear it to meet me next time. In front of all the girls.”
“It looks ridiculous,” Erin pointed out but she was glad she could hold on to it a little longer. She didn’t tell him how each night before she went to sleep she wrapped it around herself because it smelled like him.
“Or if you don’t like that proposal, I could pop into the photo shop and grab a disposable camera so I can take a photo of you wearing it as proof,” James teased.
“You wouldn’t,” Erin said and when he turned and started toward the photo shop, she reached out and grabbed his arm. “No! Fine, if it’s so important to you, I suppose I do owe you one little favour for not letting me miss Prom. And for keeping me warm the other night.”
“You don’t owe me anything for that,” James said, letting her pull him back the way they had been walking. “Anyway, I’m glad I went.” He wanted to add that he was glad he went with Erin but that seemed too forward, too much like admitting he fancied her.

The little bell above the door rang when James pushed it open, holding it for Erin.
“Is this the one you was buying that book for then?” asked the woman from behind the counter when she spotted Erin.
“You see, everyone knows everyone and everything in Derry,” Erin said, nudging James. To the woman at the counter she said “Aye, this is the James. He likes Doctor Who…maybe cause he’s English.”
“Well,” the woman said, “there’s a few other Doctor Who books around about where you found the one you bought. Think there is anyone, we don’t usually get a lot of English television fans.”
“Come on, I’ll show you,” Erin said, offering her hand to James. He took it, liked the way it felt to hold her hand in his as she led him through the narrow shelves towards the back of the store where the Sci-Fi section was. It was a shamble, books shoved in on top of each other and upside down. Sci-Fi was apparently not a big seller in Derry.
“Erin,” James said, feeling suddenly shy around her without really understanding what had changed in the last few minutes. “Do you think I made the right choice?”
“About what?” she asked without looking at him, digging through the books on the shelves and trying to put them back in some semblance of order when she realised it wasn’t what she was looking for.
“About staying here, in Derry?”
“Course you made the right choice James. You’re a Derry Girl aren’t ya?” Erin replied, finally stopping to turn and look at him. “Here…” she handed him a book. “Why do you even ask?”
“I…erm…I just…I think maybe there’s this girl I like but being Derry and the English thing…” James told her, trailing off at the end because he felt like he had already said too much. She had to know it was her he was talking about, didn’t she?
“Oh,” Erin said softly. James liked someone, an actual girl. And not a Katya type girl who would disappear soon enough. A girl from Derry. Erin wondered if it could be Charlene Cavanagh, she was gorgeous after all. She was pretty certain it wasn’t going to be Jenny Joyce but aside from that, it could have been any number of girls at their school. Maybe she didn’t even go to their school, though Erin wasn’t sure where else he’d have been meeting girls. “I’m not very good at that sort of thing.”
“You know advice,” Erin shrugged, turning back to the shelves of books. “I don’t feel like I know anything anymore. I thought John Paul liked me, thought I actually liked him and I was incredibly wrong about that. Also, I really stuffed up with Clare when she came out and I know she’s over it but I’m not exactly. And then there’s this other bloke that I thought…”
“Forget I mentioned it,” James sighed. “I don’t think the girl feels the same way anyway.”
“Maybe you should try and do something with her, just you and her. You’ll at least know then and she probably won’t stand you up,” Erin suggested, even though really she just wanted James to herself. “Here, I found another one.”
James took the few books they ended up finding to the counter and paid for them. They walked outside and the chilly air hit them, making Erin shiver.
“We’ve got another half hour, want to get a hot drink before we go back to meet your family?” James asked her.
“I didn’t bring any money with me,” Erin admitted. She hadn’t thought she’d need her purse given she was only going shopping to be a pack mule.
“I can spare a couple pounds, I’ll buy it,” James offered. “But you owe me some Pick n Mix on the way to school next week.”
“Deal,” Erin smiled, pulling her coat around herself and not saying anything when James put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer. Just to keep each other warm, she lied to herself.

Chapter Text

It took Erin until long after James had left after walking her back to her family for the thought to occur to her that maybe there was a possibility the girl he had been talking about when he'd admitted to her he liked a girl in Derry...could be her. But once the thought was there, it was stuck. Every time she thought of the way he had suddenly seemed shy, the way he had wrapped an arm around her in the cold air afterwards, the fact that he had spent all that time alone with just her. It made sense. She didn't know what to do with the information though. She definitely had feelings for him, even if she wasn't sure she was ready to admit that or do anything about it. And it would be awkward to being it up and find she was wrong. And she was wrong quite a lot.

Erin could feel Jenny's glare from across the room, shifting nervously beside her friends. She knew Jenny was still mad at her, definitely didn't want her at the party. But Aisling had been there too when they had arrived at the door, and she had told Jenny to let it go and loosen up a bit. Even David had told her to let them in, standing behind his set up as DJ. It was at the moment David's eyes had met Erin's and he had nodded at her that she realised that feeling of nervous energy she always felt around him was no longer present. Erin turned around, facing in the opposite direction to Jenny but she knew she was still not exactly welcome.
"Here, you need to calm the fuck down," Michelle said, handing Erin a bottle of beer and then taking a sip from a bottle of her own.
"Do you think she'll get the chocolate fountain out again?" Orla asked, looking around the room as people drank and danced. Erin had to admit that it was at least nice of Jenny to host a New Year's Eve party, especially given she had the house for it.
"If she's smart she won't," Erin told her cousin.
"I think I'm going to ask her," Orla replied, not caring. "But I have some Fruit Pastilles if she doesn't. And I saw a bowl of sweets before anyway."
"Do you ever think of anything else?" Michelle asked, but Orla was already off across the room in Jenny's direction.
"Alright, so New Year's resolutions?" James asked. He stood beside Clare, mostly because he felt like standing beside Erin all the time was a dead give away that he fancied her. And he didn't need to give Michelle any more ammunition.
"I'm going to drink less. Study more so I can go to a good university," Michelle announced.
"Aye sure ya are," Erin laughed.
"Shut up," Michelle said. "Besides everyone knows about the raging parties university boys have. And you need to go to university to get an invite."
"You talk about Orla never thinking of anything but sweets. Do you ever think of anything other than boys?" Clare asked Michelle.
"Course I do. I think about what I'm going to wear, how drunk I can get without Ma catching on, how to torture James..."
"Okay. So Michelle has a resolution, who else?"
"My resolution is to be more honest," Erin admitted. "Tell people what I think."
"So basically be more of a mouth than ya are now then?" Clare said.
"No, I don't wanna be rude honest, just normal honest."
"So you telling your Ma where you actually are tonight then?" James asked, a smile on his face.
"When I'm ready to be buried, I'll tell her," Erin laughed, smiling back.
"I don't have a resolution yet...I'm still deciding," Clare admitted.
"Well that leaves you dicko," Michelle said. "What's yours?"
"Oh, that's a secret. But you'll see. Maybe."

It was nearly midnight when Michelle suggested a game of Spin the Bottle, and surprisingly several other guests agreed immediately. Erin wasn't sure she wanted to play this game but Michelle strong armed her into it, much like everything else they did. James sat a little way from Erin next to, of all possibilities, David Donnelly. He didn't even know the names of half the people sitting in the ever widening circle. But it was only a kiss, that's all. And at least a quarter of the people in the circle were drunk enough to barely remember it come morning anyway.
"Jenny, you go first, it's your party after all," Clare insisted. Jenny looked nervous but she put her hand on the bottle and spun it. They watched until it landed on Jack, a boy Erin had actually been friends when they were very young. Jenny quickly kissed him and then scooted back to her spot. Jack spun the bottle and landed on a girl James didn't know. And so on went the game.

After a girl named Gracie had spun the bottle and landed on James, kissing him softly and quickly, it was his turn. There was only one girl he truly wanted the bottle to find. He reached down and spun the bottle, closing his eyes as if that would help. The room erupted into a fit of giggles and James opened his eyes to see it had landed on Michelle.
"Spin it again loser," Michelle said, rolling her eyes. James did as he was told and was relieved when it landed on Aisling, because at least he knew kissing her wouldn't mean a thing. When he was back in his place and Aisling spun the bottle for her turn, he noticed what looked like a glimmer of jealousy in Erin's eyes.

Erin was certain she'd never get a turn when almost everyone had kissed at least one other person and Clare had the bottle under her hand, ready to spin. And then, as if fate just knew what Erin was thinking, the bottle stopped on her. Clare looked at Erin panicked and started muttering "You don't have to, I can spin..."
"Clare, its fine. It's a kiss," Erin said. Mostly because she wanted her turn. And when Clare kissed her, Erin had to admit it wasn't half bad. If she were interested on girls she wouldn't have said no to Clare. Erin grabbed the bottle and spun, watching as it went round and round, coming to a stop on James. First Clare, then James. Somebody was messing with her tonight. Except that with James she felt butterflies in her stomach, and her heart raced and she really did want to kiss him. She moved toward him and pressed her lips against his. She had never noticed any stubble before but she could feel it when she put her hand against his cheek. She felt him kiss her back and she wanted to keep going. Until she heard a "well fuck a duck," from Michelle. She abruptly pulled away and with red cheeks went back to where she had been sitting.
The game continued until several turns later and David was spinning the bottle for what seemed like the hundredth time. It stopped on Erin and she wanted to feel the same rush as when it had landed on James but she didn’t feel that anymore. When David kissed her, it was nice, it was much of what she had imagined it might be, and yet when he pulled away from her she didn’t want to pull him back in. She spun the bottle again and this time it landed on Conor. The boy looked at her and she quickly kissed him. She didn’t really know much about Conor so it was easy to just give him a quick peck and move on from it.
“There is no way in hell I can go home like this,” Erin sighed as she stumbled along the pathway outside Jenny’s house. They’d decided to leave, and being 2am and given that she, Michelle and James were decidedly drunk, hey had not gotten very far.
“You think I can go home like this?” Michelle laughed. “Fuck, Ma is gonna both of us,” she added, pulling on James shoulder and nearly making him fall.
“Get off,” he groaned, pushing her gently. She gripped tighter, her nails digging into his arm and he stopped pushing her. “Jesus Michelle.”
“I told you to stop,” Clare said. “I’ve just been drinking water for the last two hours.”
“Oh come off it,” Erin said, her voice ringing loudly through the street. “As if you could ever just let go.”
“I feel floaty,” Orla mumbled. “It’s nice.”
“See,” Michelle said to Clare. “It’s nice.”
“So anybody got any idea where we’re going then?” Clare asked after a few minutes of walking in silence as the girls tried to focus on the path in front of them.
“We could just wander around until we sober up a little bit,” James suggested. “Or just face the fact that we are all completely dead and at least go home to comfortable beds.”
“Can we at least just decide on one house and go there,” Erin said. “I’m not walking all about town for anyone in these shoes.”
“You could take them off, I did,” Orla said.
“Fine, come to mine then,” Clare offered but she was clearly a little angry. “Ma and Da will be sleeping, and my room is downstairs so they shouldna hear us coming in. We might get away with it. If you two can stop making so much noise.”
“I’m not making any noise,” Michelle laughed, kicking a small stone with her boot and sending it across the pavement. “I’ll be quiet. I’ve snuck home drunk many times you know.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Clare sighed, leading them like a herd of cats.

They were squished up like little sardines on Clare’s floor, and Erin noted that James had seemed to purposefully lie between her and Michelle, with Orla snuggled into Erin on the other side. Clare, lucky for her, had the bed. Michelle was already snoring but Erin couldn’t make herself comfortable. Turning, she found herself face to face with James, who was still awake.
James looked at Erin and smiled at her. He was still drunk enough that he felt warm and slightly more confident than usual. He wanted to kiss her again, the taste of her lips still lingered from earlier in the night. He rested his forehead against hers, and told himself that this year he would be braver, he would tell Erin how he felt about her. He wasn't quite at completing that resolution yet but he had an idea.
“Happy New Year,” he said softly, and then he kissed her. A soft, sweet kiss that he was certain they’d be too drunk to remember in the morning but he felt as though he needed it, he hoped she felt the same. She kissed him back, and then buried her face into his chest, falling asleep after few minutes.

Chapter Text

Erin woke early the next morning, it felt as if she had barely even closed her eyes. She found herself buried against James' chest, his arm thrown over her as he slept. Her head was pounding, a deep ache that she knew was her own doing. She definitely shouldn't have had quite so much to drink. And he had kissed her, again after the party when no one else was still awake. Did he remember that? And what was she supposed to do about it?
Erin gently slipped out from her space on the floor, careful not to bump anyway. She grabbed her jacket from the floor where she'd careless dumped it the night before and found her shoes. She didn't bother putting them on and besides they'd likely make enough noise to wake someone.

The cold air woke her a little more and it occured to her that if she went home like this and without Orla in tow, it would be rather obvious they hadn't just slept over at Michelle's. Which was the story they'd told.
But she couldn't stay at Clare's, that close too James and unable to talk about it. Because she couldn't talk about it in front of the girls could she? She headed off to the only place she could think of, somewhere she might be able to talk without anyone knowing it was her.

"She did come back with us, didn't she?" Clare panicked after they had searched the house for Erin with no luck. James had woken to the empty space between himself and Orla.
"She must have," James said. "There was a gap between Orla and I on the floor."
"Orla could have just rolled away," Clare pointed out. She was sure they had all left together, she had made sure she was sober enough to watch the others. But they had been going off in all directions, unsteady and loud.
"Ach you're worrying over nothing Clare. Erin came back with us. Course she did," Michelle said. "Where else would she have gone anyway?"
"Well then, what happened to her? Why isn't she here?" Clare cried. Something was wrong, that much she was sure of. Erin was...difficult and strange at times but leaving on her own, that wasn't like her.
"Maybe she just went home to sleep," Orla offered. "Her bed is like a fluffy cloud, it's much nicer than the floor."
"Why did she leave without you then?" James asked. "Seems like if she was going home, she'd have taken you. Especially since we all apparently stayed at our place last night."
"My place," Michelle corrected. "But you've got a point."
"Does anyone remember doing or saying anything that would have upset her last night?" Clare asked. She noticed James face fall for a moment before he must have stopped that train of thought.
"Well she kissed the pair of you. Maybe she's fallen madly in love with you Clare," Michelle suggested.
"Why just me?" Clare retorted. "She kissed James too?!"
"Aye but nobody would wanna ride James now would they. Especially not Erin."
"I don't think she'd be that upset over a game," James said weakly. And he believed that. But he had a feeling it was his fault. He didn't remember exactly what happened but he was felt like something did. Had he drunkenly admitted he fancied her? God, why did he even have to like Erin at all. It was never going to happen.
"I'm hungry," Michelle moaned.
"Sort yourself out," Clare snapped. "I'm going to find Erin. Is anyone else coming?"
The rest of them looked at the floor and didn't respond. James wanted to go but he was convinced this was his fault somehow and he didn't think Erin would be exactly thrilled to see him. It was better if Clare went.
"You lot are absolutely useless," Clare huffed, grabbing a coat and slamming the door behind her.

Erin had gone into the confessional, despite the fact that it only took her a second to realise nobody was on the other side, and just started talking.
"I think I fancy James," she said softly. And saying it aloud, she was suddenly certain she did. Very much so. "And he kissed me last night. Really kissed me. Not for a game or a dare but because he wanted to. Except her was drunk, and so I was I. And I don't know if he even remembers kissing me. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do."

Clare had searched anywhere she thought Erin might go, the chapel being the last of them. At first, she thought it was empty and then she heard sobbing that could only be a girl, coming from the confessional. She had heard Erin cry enough times.
"Erin?" Clare called and she heard a panicked thud from inside and then the door opened and her friend stepped out. Still wearing the cropped tshirt and short skirt from the night before. If Clare hadn't heard her crying, it would have been obvious from the black mascara under her eyes and on her cheek.
"What are you doing here?" Erin asked.
"What are you doing here?" Clare replied, and when Erin hugged her she hugged her back.
"Did something happen?" Clare asked her when Erin let her go.
"Yes...I mean no. I don't know."
"Are you mad at me? I knew I shouldn't have kissed you last night but you said...and it was just a game and I..."
"Clare stop," Erin said, a smile on her face. "Its not that. Or you."
"Then what?"
"I don't really want to talk about it," Erin sighed, nervously smoothing her skirt.
"Erin, we're best friends. You can tell me anything," Clare said, touching the best friends necklace the pair of them wore. "I can keep a secret."
"No you can't Clare. And I can't tell you. I just can't. Not yet."
"Did someone do something to you?" Clare asked, eyes wide.
"Clare, I'm alright. I just needed some space. Needed to clear my head."
"You were crying," Clare pointed out.
"Please just drop it Clare," Erin sighed, rubbing her eyes and looking at the black gunk that came off onto her hand. "I need to be getting home."
"What about Orla?" Clare called as Erin walked off.
"She's a big girl, she can make her way home."

It had been a few days since they had all been together, and when James saw Erin with Clare and Orla, ready to catch the school bus he was glad she looked like she normally did. Clare had told them about what had happened when she found Erin, and he was even more certain it was somehow his fault. He had tried to remember, to relive the night but he only ever got to walking back to Clare's before everything was foggy. He knew he needed to talk to her. He just had to find time when they were alone to do it.
"Why does school have to start so early?" Michelle groaned as they found seats near the middle of the bus.
"To torture us," Erin replied softly, making sure she had put as many people between her and James as possible. She wanted to talk to him but each time she looked at him her heart raced and her mouth felt dry and every word she had ever known seemed to disappear from her brain. She just wanted to go back to how it was, when she could bury and deny her feelings and just be his friend.
"I bet Jenny will be bouncing off the walls. Back to being the centre of attention," Michelle added, looking at her painted nails.
"If she sings again I think I might actually scream."
"Please don't. It'd be lovely if we could get through even a few days without you causing trouble. If I get detention again, I think my Ma might actually bury me alive in the yard," Clare said.
"You're very quiet this morning Erin," Michelle said, looking at Erin who had her chin against the back of the seat in front of her.
"Mammy got Anna a toddler bed for Christmas. She's not taken to it. There's been a lot of crying and screaming."
"I wondered what that sound was. We heard it the other night, thought it might be a ghost," Orla said. "I would've preferred the ghost."
"Honestly Orla," Erin said, "so would I."
"So are you going to tell us why you buggered off so early the other morning?" Michelle asked. "Clare nearly cacked herself. It was a nightmare."
"No," Erin said, her eyes falling on James. Clare noticed it, even though she was certain she was the only one.

"Whatever happened between you and Erin, you need to fix it," Clare whispered to James as they made their way to their science lesson.
"I don't know what happened," James whispered back. "I don't remember."
"Christ, how much did you drink?"
"I don't know, a lot Clare."
"Then you're going to have to talk to her and find out what you did. Erin's not herself."
"Maybe she's really just tired," James hoped.
"Fix it or I'll enlist the others. And we will find out what happened."
"Give me the week," James said with a sigh. He knew he would have to talk to her regardless. He just needed the right opportunity.

James managed to catch Erin as they left English class that morning on the way to lunch. She had been in front of him in the line out the door, and he’d grabbed her wrist and pulled her down a hallway away from the others before she could object.
“Okay, what happened the other night?” he asked her.
“Huh?” Erin asked, but she knew what he was asking about. She hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it. And from what she could tell, he knew something happened but he didn’t actually remember it.
“Come on Erin. Obviously there’s something. You’ve been avoiding me, and I think you’ve said all of one word to me today. That’s not like you. And Clare knows something is up.”
“James, just…just drop it,” Erin said, making sure nobody else was in earshot of their conversation.
“Erin…” he said softly. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No,” she said quickly, but the words kept coming, “Yes, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”
“Christ Erin, please just tell me what I did so I can fix it,” James said. Except he couldn’t fix it, Erin thought. They’d crossed a line, and she knew it, and she couldn’t uncross it. Even if he didn’t remember.
“You really don’t remember?” she asked softly. She wasn’t sure why that hurt as much as it did.
“I want to,” he replied. “I know its shit that I forgot. Whatever I did obviously is bothering you. And I’m sorry. But you could just tell me.”
“You did this,” Erin said, drawing herself onto her tip toes and pressing her lips against his. She had thought maybe, not being drunk and excited for the New Year, it might feel different. But it didn’t. And she was pleased that he, also not drunk, kissed her back.
“Right,” James said as he pulled back first. “And the problem with that was?”
“We crossed a line James,” Erin said, wondering if her lipstick had smudged, if people would notice. “We’re friends and you’re Michelle’s cousin and I mean you’re also, unless you’d forgotten just a wee bit English!”
“The English thing bothers you?” he asked.
“No, maybe, I don’t know James. Everything about this bothers me!” Erin cried. She felt out of control and it wasn’t a feeling she liked.
“What do you want out of this Erin?” he asked. “If you don’t fancy me, that’s okay. We can just be friends. Forget it ever happened. Nobody else knows about it, except the Spin the Bottle kiss but…”
“I do,” Erin said, putting her hands on his chest.
“Do what?”
“Fancy you eejit,” she smiled.
“Knew it,” he laughed, and she smiled back, a real proper Erin smile.
“That doesn’t mean…I still don’t know what to do about it.”
“Okay,” James said. “Okay.”
“Okay?” Erin asked.
“I mean, yeah. I’m not going to force you to do anything,” James said. “Friends first or something right?”
“Friends don’t kiss like you do,” Erin said, pressing her lips against his again. She knew she shouldn’t, they were at school, and anyone could walk down this corridor any second and see them.
Again, it was James who, less willing this time, pulled back first. “So…”
“So, you say a word about this to anyone and I’ll make sure you get sent back to London,” Erin said.
“I quite like secrets,” James said. “Especially when they look like you.”
“Where did this cockiness come from?” Erin asked.
“I’ve been hanging around this arrogant, over confident girl,” James replied, and that, that made Erin laugh. “Come on, we can talk about it later. For now, we better get to lunch or there won’t be a secret.”

Chapter Text

James woke with a start, swearing he had heard something hit his window. He was about to roll over, thinking he was just dreaming, when he heard it again. It sounded like a pebble hitting the glass.

Erin saw the shadow and then panicked. She didn't actually know what she was going to say to him. She pressed herself against the building, hoping he would look out and not straight down. She shivered, it was freezing, and she had only thrown a coat on over her pyjamas. She inched along the wall away from his window. Just go home, she told herself. She had thought about asking him to be her boyfriend, like a proper boyfriend and not just some fella she had kissed a couple times. She also just wanted to be able to spend time with him alone, and that was near impossible save for the middle of the night. She was at the corner when she heard the front door open.
"Erin?" James called, his voice low. "I know it's you. Nobody else is stupid enough to be throwing rocks ar my window in the freezing cold. Nobody likes me enough."
"Hi," Erin said sheepishly, stepping around the corner to face him.
"Hi," he smiled.
"I don't know why I'm here," Erin sighed, playing with her hair.
"Can I kiss you?" James asked.
"Yes please," Erin smiled at him, stepping toward him and letting him kiss her. He wrapped her in his arms, blocking the freezing air. This was what she wanted. The more times he kissed her the more she was sure.
"I like you James," Erin whispered nervously, talking into his shirt because she couldn't force herself to look him in the eye. "I've never had a boyfriend before. Not a proper one."
"Are you asking me to be your boyfriend?" James said, noticing that her hair smelled like apples. It must have been the shampoo she used.
"Aye, I think I am," Erin replied, finding herself laughing. "God, who would've thought I'd fall for an English lad?"
"Well I for one am glad you did," James replied. "But it's the middle of the night. Can we talk more tomorrow. My feet have stopped feeling anything."
Erin looked down at his bare feet.
"You have heard of slippers?" She asked.
"You have heard of appropriate visiting hours?" He retorted.
"I know, I just...I couldn't sleep. I had to know."
"Do you want me to walk you home?" James asked her.
"No, it's alright. I'll see you in the morning. I still owe you some sweets," Erin said, giving him one last quick kiss. "Alright, get inside. See you tomorrow."

James watched her walk away until she was out of sight. When he finally fell back into bed and closed his eyes, she was all he thought about.

Erin sat at the table beside James, the feeling of butterflies ever present. She had never had a real boyfriend before. She wasn't quite sure what to do about it. It didn't help that they were keeping it a secret for now and she couldn't ask the girls for advice. His hand rested under the table on her leg, just above her knee.
"I still don't get it. Why did he write a poem about a bird?" Orla asked, digging her fork through her food as if searching for something.
"Of course you don't get it," Erin said to her cousin. "Its rather sophisticated. See, first off , it's not just a poem about a bird. Its called The Raven and it explores the theme of undying love. It's not so much about the fact that it's a bird, it could have been anything...Jesus!"
"It could have been Jesus?" Orla asked, not seeming surprised by the way Erin had jumped in her seat. Clare on the other hand raised an eyebrow. She wasn't stupid. But she would prove she could keep a secret.
Erin wanted to kill James as his hand slid back to where it had been. He must have known it would take her by surprise when he had run his hand up along her thigh.
"No. Sorry, I just thought I...never mind," Erin said. Thankfully Michelle didn't seem particularly interested. "What was I saying?"
"You were prattingly on about a stupid, irrelevant poem by some dead guy," Michelle sighed. "Can we talk about how we have another Friends Across the Barricades weekend coming up? You don't think they pair us off with the same Prods again do you? I mean, that Dee one was 'ight but there were some better rides there if you ask me. I saw one of 'em that got paired with...what's her name?" And Michelle started clicking her fingers at Erin as if that would make Erin remember.
"I don't know which one you mean Michelle," Erin sighed after a minute of the clicking. "Besides, we don't even know if it'll be the same ones."
"How many Prods can there be that signed up for it?"
"Fair point," Erin replied.
"Why aren't you more excited about it? You could try again with that Dee fella, I think he quite liked you by the end of it all," Michelle said. Erin felt James squeeze her thigh.
"Stop it," she said. Everybody looked at her.
"I mean...Michelle just stop going on about them lads for five minutes."
James took his hand away, aware she meant him. He knew it was distracting her, knew she didn't want to be caught out. He didn't care who knew he liked Erin, now knowing she liked him equally as much. But he also knew her main reasoning was to avoid dealing with Michelle. He could understand that. Plus, he had never been in a secret relationship before and it actually made him feel more confident. Maybe because if he did something wrong or made a mistake, nobody else would know about.
"I just realised I forgot something," Erin said, practically jumping out of her seat. "I'll be back in a few."
James watched her walk off and said he needed to use the bathroom, making sure not to go in the same direction, only making his way to their English room when he was out of sight.
"I did actually forget my pen," Erin laughed when she realised James had followed her.
"You forgot this too," he said, kissing her quickly. He watched her blush and grab the lone pen from the desk she had been sitting at.
"You are going to get us caught," she said sternly. "And if you do, you can be the one to deal with Michelle and whatever outburst is coming."
"How about a date then?" James asked. "Just you and me."
"And where are you thinking we can go in Derry?" Erin asked.
"The movies," James smiled. "We can accidentally meet there, just happen to get tickets to the same movie and then it's dark and we can just enjoy each other's company."
"That's actually a good idea," Erin smiled. "Friday night?"
"Oh, I can't do Friday," James teased. "I was planning to go catch a film."
"I hate you," Erin replied, looking at the clock. "Come on, we've left them alone for more than 5 minutes. We had better get back or they'll come looking."
"Oh, and one more thing," James said with a smirk. "You have to wear the scarf to the movies. It's still more than cold enough to wear it."
"We'll see," Erin said, making sure she had the pen she'd forgotten before leaving the room. James followed behind, close enough that she was very aware how easy it would be to turn around and kiss him. But that would have to wait until Friday.

Chapter Text

Erin waited just inside the theatre, exactly as they had planned. She had arrived a little earlier than she meant to and it was too cold to wait outside even with his scarf around her. She turned her ticket over in her hands. They had agreed to buy tickets separately, it was easier to stick with the story they had met up by accident if they did it this way. Even if it was nearly as romantic. Just as she was thinking about buying some popcorn, she saw James walk in, his usual denim jacket easy to spot in the small crowd. He smiled at her, the simple black skirt and sweater, complimented by his favourite colourful scarf.
“What a surprise,” James said, a little louder than necessary, and a few other people turned and looked at him before continuing on their way. “What are you seeing?”
“Hi James,” Erin laughed. “You can tone it down. Nobody we know is here and besides, we are friends.”
“Does that mean I can do this then?” James asked, leaning down and kissing her softly. He wrapped his arms around her, lifting her off the floor and spinning her around. After a minute, he lowers her back down. “Oh, I love the scarf by the way.”
“My boyfriend asked me to wear it,” Erin replied.
“He’s got great taste.”
“He sure does,” Erin smiled, kissing his cheek. “Got your ticket?”
“Yes, but you owe me for this one,” James sighed. She had insisted on seeing Scream, something about horror movies being the most appropriate movie for their first real date. He told her she watched too many romance movies. But Erin was stubborn and in fairness to her, there weren’t really any other choices.
“If you get scared, you can always hide behind the scarf,” Erin teased. “Come on, you better buy me some popcorn or something.”
James held out his arm and Erin took it, pressing against his side happily. “Maybe we should just tell them,” she said as they waited in the queue. “I like being able to do this without thinking about it.”
“You sure? I thought you wanted to wait,” James replied.
“No, I’m not sure. But knowing us, knowing our friends, we’re going to get caught at some point. Might as well pre-empt it.”
“You may have a point,” James laughed. “Although we got to the Take That concert without being caught.”
“Um…about that. Da knows we were there. He saw us on the telly. Don’t worry though, he actually thought it was quite a laugh,” Erin told him as the person in front of them got their snacks.
“Alright, enough worrying. For now, I just want to enjoy being at the movies with my girlfriend,” James said and then asked the lad behind the counter for some popcorn and a large coke.

“Right, well when I have nightmares tonight, I’ll be round yours and throwing rocks at your window,” James told Erin as they left the theatre, holding hands as they walked side by side. “And you had better wake up.”
“You could just come to mine if you’re so scared,” Erin suggested, knowing he would understand what she actually meant. What she wanted.
“What about getting caught?” James laughed, not sure if she was serious or not. If she was serious, he wasn’t exactly about to say no. But if she wasn’t, he didn’t want to seem too eager.
“You’ve slept over before,” Erin reminded him.
“With all the other girls,” he laughed. “Not alone.”
“Well, we can tell Mammy it’s a Science thing. That we’re partners for it.”
“I mean, it’s your life on the line if they catch you out,” James laughed. “And I doubt I’d have nightmares if I’m with you.”
“It’s settled then. But let’s get some real food first. Popcorn and a drink is not enough.”

The pub was crowded by the time they got there. Not that it was a surprise. It was 8pm on a Friday night. They ordered food and found a table to sit down at.
"We are going to need some sort of game plan to tell the girls," James said.
"I thought I would just say that I'm dating a massive ride and let them figure it out," Erin said, her hand crossing the table to rest on his.
"As much as I like the idea of Erin Quinn thinking I'm a massive ride, leaving them to figure it out seems very vague. And Michelle is not going to believe it for a second."
"Hmmm...I could just do this in front of them," Erin said, leaning over and kissing him.
"At least it's not subtle," James replied. "You know this could be a disaster."
"Telling them or dating you?" Erin quipped.
"I hope dating me isn't a disaster."
"Not yet it's not."
"Good. Erin Quinn."
"You keep doing that. Calling me by my full name."
"I just have to reality check myself sometimes," he said with a laugh. "But actually it's not your full name is it? I don't know your middle name. Nobody ever uses it."
"Josephine. After Granda. Orla and I have the same middle name," Erin told him with a roll of her eyes. "What's yours?"
"I'd rather not," James said, feeling his cheeks heat up.
"Oh come on. I won't tell anyone," Erin coaxed.
"Its Z."
"What like just the letter Z?"
"Mum thought it sounded fancy but she couldn't think of an actual name so she just went with the letter."
"Oh James," Erin giggled. "I'll never complain about Josephine again."
"Nor should you. It's nice."
"You have to say that," Erin said, but it made her feel good all the same.

"So...I have to tell you something," James said as they walked back to Erin's hiuse. Dinner had been delicious and spending it with Erin made it even better. She laughed at his jokes and he liked the way she played with his scarf absentmindedly while they talked.
"Okay?" Erin said, squeezing his hand a little.
"My mum asked me to visit for Easter. I kind of...told her about us."
"She's your Mum. That's okay. You're not planning to stay are you?" Erin asked.
"No, of course not. I love Derry. But she invited you. If you want to come...and if your Ma says it's okay of course," James replied.
"To London?"
"Well yeah. That's where she lives," James laughed. "Please?"
"If we can convince Mammy, which won't be easy. You'll have to be extra charming," Erin said, kissing his cheek. "And maybe just promise we stay in separate rooms."
"Mum already has that sorted. She said and I quote, No way in hell will I let you ruin that girl's life like your father ruined mine."
"And you still want to visit her?" Erin smiled.
"She's still my mum. And besides, I'd love the opportunity to show you some of my favourite places around London."

"Hi James," Mrs. Quinn said brightly when he entered the kitchen behind Erin.
"James is going to stay over. We have a Science project to work on," Erin said confidently. She hoped her Ma wouldn't ask any questions but that seemed unlikely.
"Just you James?" Mary did indeed ask. She wanted to tell Erin how obvious it all was but she humoured her when she had watched her daughter get dressed up, wearing the scarf she knew belonged to James. She had asked where Erin was going and she had said she was just going to the movies. Mary gave Gerry a look as if to encourage him to say something.
"Aye Mrs Quinn. Michelle and Clare partnered up and Orla wasn't actually paying attention and she got stuck with Jenny. Although that's probably a good thing for Orla."
"Why don't I get the spare mattress out of Anna's room then?" Gerry sighed. "You can help me James."
Erin nodded to him when he glanced at her and went off with Mr. Quinn.
"No funny business, you here me."
"Mammy it's just James," Erin said.
"Oh don't you try none of that. I see the way you two look at each other. Not to mention you're wearing his scarf!" Mary told her daughter. "I just...I know what you kids can be like. Believe it or you, your Da and I were young once."
"Ach, please don't Mammy."
"He sleeps on the mattress. And I will be checking," Mary insisted.
"Fine," Erin said. "Can I go now?"
"Get a set of sheets and a blanket for the lad while you're at it," Mary shouted after her daughter who took the first opportunity to flee the room.

"I can't sleep," Erin sighed, rolling over to look up at the ceiling.
"Here," James said, reaching his hand up to hold hers. "I'm not risking anything else. I don't doubt your Ma would hesitate with that wooden spoon of hers if I disobeyed her rules."
"It'll do," Erin replied, rolling over to look down at him. "Are you comfortable enough?"
"Well I mean, I'm sleeping in my girlfriend's room and I'm with one of my best friends. So I'd say that's pretty comfortable."
"I meant the mattress," Erin laughed.
"I know," James smiled. "And no, how old is this thing?"
"At least 16 years old. They've had it since I was a baby. Maybe before that."
"Next time we go on a date, I'm not watching a horror movie. Or sleeping on this mattress. Just so you know."
"Well, you can fight Mammy on that one," Erin replied sleepily.
"Night Erin," James said, their hands still together.
"Night James," Erin mumbled.

When Mary checked in the pair late that night she smiled. She had half expected them to ignore her, Erin ignored her any other time. Instead, James was sleepily dutifully on what was possibly the worst mattress while Erin slept in her own bed, her arm hanging over the each, almost touching James' hand.
"Alright love," Gerry whispered, wrapping his arms around his wife.
"Aye. Sometimes I just wish she didn't have to grow up so fast."
"Remember that when Anna comes crawling into our bed at 3am," Gerry told his wife. Mary closed Erin's door behind her. If she had to pick a boy for her daughter, James Maguire would be it.

Chapter Text

"No," Michelle said, as if it were that simple.
"I'm sorry what?" Erin replied as she sat across the table from the girls, James beside her.
"You heard me. No. This isn't happening. I don't accept it," Michelle said.
"Its not actually up to you," Erin argued. "I know this is hard for you but grow up Michelle!"
"Fuck the pair of you, this is insane. Have you forgotten that he's English, and a prick and..." Michelle ranted.
"Okay, not a prick," James interrupted. "And in fairness I'm also technically Irish. And you were the one who told me that I belonged here. That I was a Derry Girl. Did you forget that?"
"Shut up dick, I'm not talking to you," Michelle responded. "And you will ruin everything. As if you aren't going to just shift off and leave James behind if David or John Paul show even the slightest interest in you. You're just bored Erin."
"Stop it Michelle," Erin said in a low voice. "I fancy James. I chose James."
"Sure ya did," Michelle laughed. "I'm not going to sit here and be okay with this. So sort your shit out and then come find me."
With that Michelle roughly pushed her chair back and left the little ice cream shop they had met up in. Clare and Orla both just sat uncomfortably and James squeezed Erin's hand in his.
"You knew she wouldn't be easy," he sighed.
"She'll get over it," Clare told them. "I mean, I will admit I'm concerned. What if you break up? I'm not choosing sides. And I don't want our last years of school to be any harder than they already will be."
"We won't make you chose sides," James said. "And we know that it could go wrong but it also might be fine."
"And besides James is still one of us girls, no matter what," Erin smiled.
"You're both fools," Clare said but then she laughed. Erin could always count on Clare.
"Can I get an ice cream yet?" Orla asked, seemingly having no opinion on the revelation.
"Sure Orla," Erin nodded. "Can you get me one too?"
"Give us your money then," Orla replied, holding out her hand and wiggling her fingers. "Oh and James...."
"Yeah Orla?"
"If you break my cousin's heart, I will break you. And I know how to dig quite a big hole."
Orla walked off towards the counter.
"Should I be worried about that?" James asked.
"You should always be a little worried about her," Erin replied. "And thanks for being you Clare. We knew at least you'd understand."
"Doesn't mean I one hundred percent support it just yet," Clare said. "But you can't help who you love I suppose."
"Well I'll take whatever percent of support you can give. It's more than Michelle," Erin laughed. "So now that that's over, anybody else got any news?"

James walked Erin home, Orla happily trailing behind then because he had bribed her with a lolly ring. He kissed her goodbye and made his way home, not sure he was ready to face Cyclone Michelle. But he didn't have much of a choice. When he opened the door he heard Michelle slam her own door as if she needed him to know she was still angry.
"Michelle," James called, knocking on her door. "This is ridiculous."
"Not as ridiculous as you dating Erin," Michelle huffed from the other side of the door.
"What do you want me to say?" James asked, leaning against the door. "You had to have some idea I liked her. I took her to prom."
"Aye, because she got stood up."
"That may be but I still chose to give up the Doctor Who night for her. Not Clare, if you remember."
"That doesn't mean I was expecting this!" Michelle replied.
"I don't understand why you're so angry about it," James sighed. "But you have to get over it. I really care about Erin. And she cares about me too."
"You think," Michelle countered. "I just...I don't want you to leave."
"Even if I broke up with Erin tomorrow, I still wouldn't go back to London permanently. Derry is my home and at the end of the day, as much as I still love my Mum, Aunt Deidre is more of a mother figure," James admitted. He heard her open the door.
"Don't let her hear you saying nice things about her. It'll go straight to Ma's head. And then she'll lecture me about why I couldn't be a more grateful child."
"So are we okay?" James asked cautiously.
"Undecided. I have to talk to Erin first. Just me and her."
"Since when are you protective of me?" James laughed.
"Since you up and tried to leave me, ya prick."
"Fair," James replied. "You want to watch a movie? Just not a horror one."
"Where's the fun in that?" Michelle said but she shut her door behind her and followed him down to the living room.

Erin was surprised when Michelle came around the next day by herself. But she invited her in and they went up to Erin's room.
"I have to know...why James?" Michelle asked immediately after Erin had closed the door.
"I didn't mean to but...he's funny, and smart and kind. I like when he smiles. And he saved me from a ruined prom. Not to mention he got me a lovely gift for Christmas and..."
"We did Secret Santa for Christmas," Michelle interrupted. "And Orla had you."
"He gave it to me later, when he walked me home."
"Is that why he was so cheery when he got back?" Michelle said but more to herself then Erin. "Anyway, so. Why can't you just be friends?!"
"Because I don't want to be just friends. Katya was...and you know how much I hate to admit I was wrong...but she was right. James is handsome. And sexy. In a James kind of way but still..." Erin admitted. She felt her stomach twist with nerves. She just wanted Michelle to go back to being her usual self. She wanted everything back to normal, just with one minor change.
"Ew, I just...I don't get when this changed. Why didn't you tell me?" Michelle asked.
"Is that what this is about? That we didn't tell you?" Erin asked.
"Possibly, a tiny bit."
"Michelle you three are the first people we've told. And I would have told you sooner except I thought you might this actually."
"Do you love him?" Michelle asked.
"No! Christ Michelle we've only been dating a little while. But I like him. I care about him. And I might love him, one day."
"I believe you," Michelle sighed. "Okay. I can be okay with this."
"That was a quick change of heart."
"I guess I just couldn't accept that you genuinely like each other. Why would anyone in her right mind fancy James? It's still weird but I at least believe it."
"Thanks Michelle," Erin smiled at her friend. "So...are we still on for a study party tonight then?"
"Just promise you won't be all over James in front of me," Michelle begged. There was only so much she could accept at one time.
"Its a study party," Erin laughed. "And I'll try."
"I'll see you tonight then," Michelle agreed. "And yes, I'm bringing alcohol. Don't bother telling me not to. I'll need it to deal with you two and your romantic crap."