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The days still feel raw, uneven. The unsettled beat of my heart persists, but my soul is lost. My tongue is trapped inside the roof of my mouth, and the words do not come. It doesn’t matter that mum cries or Isabel, my seven-year-old sister, begs me to talk. It doesn’t matter that my ex-best friend; the pretty, vivacious Janet calls me a freak with her new best friends Pearl and Madison and Aimee. It doesn’t even matter I am slowly dying inside, and nobody knows.





































It wasn’t always like this.






























Last year I had it all. Friends, good grades, hobbies – you name it, and I was that girl.








I was the one with the fashionable boots edged with real leather and carefully-woven stitches, the girl with the burning red hair and the dimples and the big laugh. I was the one who could flirt with cool Matty from the year above, the one who got her friends into parties and concerts and 15 movies. I was the girl everybody wanted to be. I envy her, everyday. The twist of resentment and fear, the uncurling of hate and misfortune, all point towards that night, the one I never talk about. Not to mum, not to Isabel – and certainly not the girls who used to be my friends, the ones who promised to be there for each other forever, no matter what. It turns out it was all lies.
























You see, everything just stopped, that night. It was like the world was shifted into perspective – and I was on the edge of it.

























I was no longer bubbly Charlotte with her fur-trimmed pink coat and new silver bag at her best friend’s party – I was drenched with salty rain and tears, my mobile lying in a puddle next to me, waiting for Aunt Susan to pick me up, drive me to the hospital. I can still see the pity, the endless sadness, in my Aunt’s usually chirpy brown eyes, the moment I got into her car and she just looked at me, and it was like rocks were crushing the air I needed to breathe, because…something was very, very wrong.


















I don’t remember the name of that hospital, but the smell will stay with me forever. The strong sense of hopelessness and death slowly unfolding into the oxygen, the poisonous stench of people that could not be saved.





























I’m there right now, if I close my eyes.




















I’m there. The dirty white-washed walls, the big silver bin in the corner; the delicate yellow roses on the windowsill…and her.




























Lying in a mass of tubes and plaster, wired up to a gradually decreasing heart monitor, eyes closed, lids lavender and giving only the slightest sign of movement. The rest of her body was still. My frozen, absent sister.



























I see mum too, bent over her eldest daughter’s failing body, and Dad…the dying helplessness etched into his features, watching her with unblinking eyes, as though a second missed could be the difference between life and death.





















Isabel wasn’t there. Somehow, the thought of her playing somewhere innocently at a friend’s house made me cry more than the sight before me. I wished I could be that young, that unknowing. I wished somebody would burn those images from my brain.









Of course, nobody did.































At her funeral, I cried for the girl she was going to be. She was beautiful, my older sister – beautiful and talented and passionate. She had wanted to be a theatre actress, doing huge famous shows and entertaining people, from the young with Cinderella pantomimes, to the middle-aged and beyond with classics like The Taming of the Shrew...she just lived to captivate people. She even died dramatically. Her acting dreams were her life.











She never wanted to be forgotten when she died. She said that to me once, swinging from the bars of our shared bunk beds, so carefree. I wondered if she was afraid – then shuddered. They told me the crash was quick…but surely there’s a moment when you realise that something bad is happening, that you could be just seconds from death…and then you’re gone. I think it’s the saddest thing.
























Today, at school, we got given a special worksheet in P.S.H.E. – it was called: My Dreams.





Ms Fanning, our teacher, told us to fill in the spaces with our hopes and dreams and ambitions…but she told me I didn’t have to do it, not if I didn’t want to. But I did want to. For her. For Gemma. The girl who never got to achieve her dreams.















Looking at the curled writing asking me about my future, my secret burning desires, I abruptly realized I still had a shot at mine.






















So I smiled, picked up my black biro, and started to write: My Dream…




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