My eyes are still red when the doorbell rings.
"Oh, damn. That'll be Charlotte and her sister."
I sniff; swipe my hand over my eyes. Mama hands me a tissue, "Here."
"Thanks," I whisper.
"You don't have to cycle with them, you know. I could take you."
"Yes, I do. They're already here. Besides, cycling with them will help. Honestly."
I lean up, peck Mama on the cheek. Then, I am gone, swinging my schoolbag on to my shoulder and disappearing through the front door.
Two raven-haired girls, Charlotte and Hayley-Anna Barnes, are waiting outside. I offer them a shaky smile, "Hey."
No matter how hard I try to keep my voice steady, Hayley-Anna sees through me instantly. She's always seen through me. She grabs my hand and squeezes it slightly before we set off.
And when we get to school, she gestures for Charlotte to go on ahead and takes me aside.
"She's gone, isn't she?"
I can't speak. My eyes flash to Hayley-Anna's for the briefest of seconds. I nod.
Wordlessly, the older girl pulls me into her arms. She holds me tight, rocking me gently back and forth. Just as my sister would, were she here and not halfway to University. She lets me bury my face in her chest, just as I would do with my sister. Unable to help myself, I burst into fresh tears.
When they are over, however; when they are forced to be over by the bell, Hayley-Anna slips her arm around my waist. She leads me into school, exactly the way my sister used to.
It's not the same. It can never be the same.
But it can help.
And it does.