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Chapter 1

November 15th 1998

“Happy Birthday!” My big brother, Dylan pulls open my curtains, flooding my room with light. I groan and try to cover my eyes with my hands. “Don’t be like that sis. I’ve got you a cake and everything.” He pouts. I peak through my fingers and Dylan is holding out a plate with a single cupcake impaled with a burning candle on top.

“Is it strawberry?”

“Of course!” He scoffs, and I sit up a blow out the flame. “Whoop whoop! Can’t believe my baby sister is sixteen today.” He pulls me in for a hug, nearly getting my cake smeared over his De La Soul tee-shirt. “I’ve got something extra planned for you later, after the ’rents have had their fill of you.” He winks.

Mom shouts up the stairs that we’ve got ten minutes to get our asses out of bed and down for breakfast. Dylan heads out, leaving me to finish my cake in peace. Licking the last of the strawberry frosting off my fingers, I drag myself out of bed and pull my dressing gown on over my batman pajamas before making my way down to the kitchen. My parents give me big hugs, and we all sit down to eat the traditional breakfast pancakes. My mom will only cook us breakfast on our birthdays and occasionally if we are really ill. I drown mine in syrup and tuck in. After breakfast we have the traditional opening of gifts and cards. My parents surprised me by giving me the new Korn album, Follow The Leader. By Dylan’s smug look I think he was behind the unusually good present.

As it is a Sunday, my mom decides it will be a fun thing to spend the whole day together. Dylan drives us in his beat up Ford Fiesta to the local mall, and mom drags me to the beauty salon. My fringe had started to grow a bit long, so I allowed them to trim it back into a blunt line mid way down my forehead, and to trim the rest of my straight hair back into a neat bob just under my chin. We went shopping, which was actually fun for a change as she let me buy a new Nine Inch Nails shirt. I think she is finally moving past the days of trying to get me to dress like a girly girl. I mean, I wear skirts occasionally but I feel much more comfortable in a pair of baggy jeans and black band tee-shirt. As long as they are not vulgar my folks have stopped saying anything about them.

We catch the bus back home and get ready for another Rose family birthday tradition, dinner at Pizza Hut. We’re not poor, but my parents don’t like to be frivolous so we only get to eat out on rare occasions, so I savor these dinners. By eight we are back home, my parents curled up together on the sofa watching some old film. Dylan motions for me to go get ready, and starts buttering up a folks into letting him take me out.

I quickly shower and pull on my new tee-shirt and one of Dylan’s old flannel shirts, my wide legged jeans and black Vans. My hair still looks good from the trip to the hair dresser, I just smooth out my bangs a little. Picking up my khol eyeliner I thicken the black lines round my eyes, making my blue-grey eyes pop even more against my pale skin. I smear on more of my favorite red lipstick and I’m all set to go.

By the time I get back downstairs, Dylan has persuaded my parents to let me go out with him. I thank them both profusely and give them both a big hug before running out to get in Dylan’s car. He starts the engine and Digital Underground blasts out the tinny speakers.

“My name is Humpty, pronounced with a Umpty, Yo ladies, oh how I like to hump thee, And all the rappers in the top ten--please allow me to bump thee...” We rap together, before bursting out into laughter. Dylan carries on, he knows all the lyrics word perfect. For a skinny white guy he loves his hip hop. We always get stares at traffic lights when his shitty little car pulls up blasting out rap, but Dylan doesn’t give a crap about what other people think of him.

We pull in to the car park which serves the lake on the outside of town. It’s where all the teenagers come to party after dark. Dylan has been coming here for years, but has never let me join him.

“Tonight my little sister, you will stay with me or Tommy.” His best friend lopes over to us and slings his arm over my shoulders.

“Happy birthday, Rosa-Lee! Big bro finally think you are old enough to come party?” He waggles his eyebrows.

“Big bro..” Dylan glares at him. “Is not letting her ‘party’ she is here just to have a little fun.”

They lead me down towards the lake, where a large group of teens ranging in age from my grade up to Dylan’s age, just into college. I know most of the kids there, all of them know Dylan. He was popular when he was at high school and that easy going personality meant he was still as popular in college. His black close shaved hair, delicate features and same blue-grey eyes as mine meant he was very popular amongst the ladies. As soon as they see he’s arrived he is pulled into a gaggle of girls wearing short tight skirts. There is a large bonfire on the shore, and there are a few coolers packed full of bottles and cans. Tommy grabs me a can of coke. When I’ve had a few mouthfuls he produces a bottle of vodka from his back pocket and pours it in, winking at me.

I wander away from Dylan and his friends, and join a group of kids from my high school. I’m given cans of beer, and soon start to feel a little tipsy. We’ve walked a little way from the lake, and are hanging out on the little playground nearby. There are more people by the lake now, milling around causing weird shadows in the flames. It seems noisier too, I can hear shouting. I think I can hear Tommy and Dylan shouting.

I stumble down the slope back towards the lake side. The crowd of people is dense around the bonfire. As I get closer I hear screaming. I am aware of people running past me, shouting out to phone for an ambulance. As the crowd parts I can see Dylan lying on the floor. I keep walking forward. I feel like I’m walking through quicksand, my feet are made of lead. Tommy is crouched over him, tears running down his cheeks, yelling for help. I kneel down next to Dylan. His tee-shirt is covered in sand which is slowly turning red. He tries to say something but all that comes out of his mouth are some gurgles. I take his hand. It’s cold, not like his usual little radiator hands. He coughs again, and some blood trickles out of his mouth, and runs down his cheek. He looks so scared. I lean forward and lay my head on his quivering chest, moving his hand to rest on my cheek.

I don’t know how long we lay there. I am vaguely aware of Tommy trying to pull me off Dylan’s chest, and a high pitched wail, which I later realized was coming from me. Eventually flashing blue lights up the lake side.

***

I wake up in a white room. Machines beep around me. I roll my head to the side and see my dad slumped forward in a plastic chair, his head in his hands.

“Daddy?” My voice comes out as a croak. He jumps up and makes his way quickly to my bed side and takes my hand.

“Oh! Rosa-Lee, my sweet girl.” His voice breaks.

“Where...where’s Dylan?”

“I’m sorry baby girl. I’m so so sorry.” Big fat tears roll down my dads cheeks, dampening his shirt collar.

***

I was kept in hospital for a couple of days to monitor me for shock. I think mostly because I didn’t cry, or respond in any way really to my brothers death. I felt numb. All around me people were outwardly grieving. My parents couldn’t seem to have a conversation without one or both of them bursting into tears. Tommy had driven Dylan’s car back to the house after a couple of days, and had shed a few tears when he’d given me the keys. My grandparents showed up for the funeral, and there were more tears. They held the wake at the house afterwards. I wandered around being told how much Dylan was missed, and how wonderful he was. I felt like I was being choked. The air was too heavy in my lungs. I grabbed Dylan’s car keys and ran out to his car.

His scent was all around me, cinnamon gum and faded weed, and finally I could breathe. I turned the engine on and his Digital Underground tape started up, and finally it hit me.

Dylan was gone.

My big brother.

The only person who really knew me was dead.

Stabbed to death by some jealous ex-boyfriend who thought he still had some claim to a girl who had long since forgotten and replaced him.

Finally the tears started to fall.

***

It’s been a couple months since Dylan passed. I am fucking up.

I can’t stand to be in that house. My parents have been so controlling over me. Neither of them has ventured into Dylan’s room. I find myself in Dylan’s car whenever the pressure gets too much in the house.

I have started skipping school most days, hanging out with an older crowd.

I stay out late most nights, like tonight. I am huddled in the corner of a nightclub which I’d been snuck into, nursing a bottle of vodka. Like most other nights I will stumble home in the small hours and most likely curl up in Dylan’s bed.

I am aware someone is calling my name. I look round, trying to get my eyes to focus. Tommy’s worried face swims in front of me.

“Rosa-Lee? What the fuck are you doing here?” His face wrinkles in worry.

“Ah’m juss here wiv, y’know, people.” I gesture around, only just noticing that the guys I’d come with had disappeared. “Pffst...well, war eva...” I take another swig from my bottle.

Tommy sighs, and runs a hand down his face.

“Do you think Dylan would want you to be here, like this?” He tries to ease the bottle from my grasp. I shake my head, a lone tear escaping and making a track down my cheek. “Come on. I’ll take you home now.”

***

For the last few weeks wherever I go, Tommy seems to be there. Always stopping me from getting too wasted. Always driving me home to my worried parents.

So I found somewhere new to hang out.

***

Seedier bars attract seedier clientele. They knew I was too young to be there, but the desperate haunted look on my face meant they left me to it. As long as I had money to pay for my drinks they really didn’t care. My new group smoked weed. A lot of weed. This attracted new friends. Even older friends. Friends who carried little packets of white powder. Then friends who carried little packets of brown powder and tourniquets.

***

My seventeenth birthday rolls on by.

I awaken to the nauseating smell of pancakes. I moan and pull my sheets up over my head. My head is pounding, and my mouth feels like it’s full of cotton wool. I stumble out of bed and catch sight of myself on the mirror.

My hair has grown through, sitting just below my shoulders. My fringe hangs nearly down to my nose, I’d taken to pushing it back under an old black beanie of Dylan’s I’d found on the back seat of his car. My eyes are dull and lifeless. My skin is a sickly grey color. I know I’ve lost weight, but am shocked at the drawn appearance of my cheeks.

My door pushes open, and my mom peeks round at me.

“Happy birthday sweetheart.” She tries what I imagine she thinks is a warm smile. “I made your pancakes already.”

“Ok. Thanks mom. I’ll be down in a sec.”

Once I hear her footsteps retreat back down to the kitchen and her and my dad’s muffled talking, I sneak out and down to Dylan’s car.

I lie down on the back seat, breathing in Dylan’s fading scent as deeply as I can, trying to imagine he is here with me.

But he’s not.

A sob threatens to escape.

I can’t believe I managed to get through a year without him.

I pull out a tin from my pocket. Inside is a small packet of heroin, a needle, a spoon and a length of rubber tubing. I pick up a lighter and bottle of water from the floor, and proceed to cook up a dose. As I let the swirling liquid flow into my vein, I feel the usual rush. But it keeps going. I feel like I’m floating away into the blackness.

I feel like Dylan is close by.

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