On her sixteenth birthday, Rosa-Lee’s world ended when her older brother was killed. She was lost in grief until Bryan helped her heal. She had wanted their marriage but as adults, they have drifted apart. When she encounters her new colleague and hot lead singer of a metal band in a club, she begins to question herself. Will Rosa-Lee risk everything to rediscover who she really is?
Age Rating: 18+
“Happy Birthday!” My big brother, Dylan opens my drapes, 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 peek 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 to blow out the flame.
“Whoop, whoop! Can’t believe my baby sister is sixteen today.” He pulls me in for a hug, nearly smearing my cake over his De La Soul T-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 put on my dressing gown 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 breakfast pancakes—a family tradition. My mom will only cook us breakfast on our birthdays and, occasionally, if we are really ill. I drown my pancakes in syrup and tuck in.
After breakfast, we have the “traditional” opening of gifts and cards. My parents surprise 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 has started to grow a bit long, so I allow them to trim it back into a blunt line midway down my forehead, and snip off the rest of my straight hair into a neat bob just under my chin.
We go shopping, which is 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 T-shirt. As long as they’re 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. We only get to eat out on rare occasions, so I savor these dinners.
By eight, we are back home, and my parents curl up together on the sofa watching some old film. Dylan motions for me to go get ready, and starts buttering up the folks so they’ll let him take me out.
I quickly shower and throw on my new T-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 hairdresser, and I only need to smooth out my bangs a little.
Picking up my kohl eyeliner, I thicken the black lines around my eyes, making my blue-gray 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 each a big hug before running out to get in Dylan’s car. He starts the engine and Digital Underground blasts from 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 words to the song perfectly.
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 into the parking lot 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 thinks 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 toward the lake, where a large group of teens—ranging in age from my grade up to Dylan’s age, which is just into college—are hanging out.
I know most of the kids there; all of them know Dylan. He was popular when he was at high school, and that easygoing personality meant he is still as popular in college.
His black, close-shaved hair, delicate features, and same blue-gray eyes as mine meant he is very popular amongst the ladies. As soon as they see he’s arrived, he is dragged 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 into my can, 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 at the little playground nearby.
There are more people by the lake now, milling around the flames and causing weird shadows to be cast.
It seems noisier, too; I can hear shouting. I think I can hear Tommy and Dylan shouting.
I stumble down the slope back toward the lakeside. The crowd of people is dense around the bonfire.
As I get closer, I hear screaming. People are running past me, shouting out to phone an ambulance.
As the crowd parts, I can see Dylan lying on the floor.
I keep walking forward. I feel like I’m walking on quicksand with feet made of lead. Tommy is crouched over Dylan, tears running down his cheeks, yelling for help.
I kneel next to Dylan. His T-shirt is covered in sand and it 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, running down his lower 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 for how long we’ve lain there when I became vaguely aware of Tommy trying to pull me off Dylan’s chest, and a high-pitched wail sounding.
It slowly dawns on me that the wail is coming from me. Eventually, flashing blue lights illuminate the lakeside.
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 bedside and takes my hand.
“Oh! Rosa-Lee, my sweet girl.” His voice breaks.
“I’m sorry baby girl. I’m so, so sorry.” Big fat tears roll down my dad’s cheeks, dampening his shirt collar.
I ended up being kept in hospital for a couple of days so I could be monitored for shock. I think, mostly, because I didn’t cry, or respond in any way really to my brother’s death.
I have been feeling numb. All around me, people have been openly 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. He shed a few tears when he gave me the keys. When my grandparents showed up for the funeral just now, there were more tears.
Now, at the wake at the house, I wander around being told how much Dylan is missed, and how wonderful he was. I feel like I am being choked. The air is too heavy in my lungs.
I grab Dylan’s car keys and run out to his car.
In his car, I can smell him all around me—cinnamon gum and faded weed—and finally, I can breathe.
I turn the engine on and his Digital Underground tape starts up, and at last, it hits me.
Dylan is gone.
My big brother.
The only person who really knew me is 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 start 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. 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, 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, end up curling up in Dylan’s bed.
I become aware of someone 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 to notice that the guys I’ve come with have 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 seemed 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 know I am too young to be there, but the desperate, haunted look on my face means they leave me to it. As long as I have the money to pay for my drinks, they really don’t care.
My new group smokes weed. A lot of weed. This attracts new friends. Even older friends.
Friends who carry little packets of white powder. Then, friends who carry little packets of brown powder and tourniquets.
My seventeenth birthday rolls by.
I awaken to the nauseating smell of pancakes. I moan and pull my sheets 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’ve taken to hiding it under an old, black beanie of Dylan’s I found on the back seat of his car.
My eyes are dull and lifeless. My skin is a sickly gray color. I know I’ve lost weight, but am shocked at how drawn my cheeks look.
My door pushes open, and my mom peeks around.
“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 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 from me.
I can’t believe I’ve managed to get through a year without him.
I take 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, proceeding 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 drifting away into the night…
I feel like Dylan is close by…