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Dear family -

I’ve still got about 8 hours left of this flight, and I’m already incredibly bored. The guy next to me is snoring VERY LOUDLY and has been since about 30 seconds after take-off. I wonder how much trouble I’d get in if I stuffed tissues up his nose…

Don’t worry, I won’t actually do it. For now. There’s no telling whether I’ll change my mind if I have to keep listening to it, though.

I miss you all so much. It doesn’t feel quite real that I’m not going to wake up in the morning still there. Going back to a house with two parents who don’t love each other any more and a missing sister just doesn’t seem all that appealing, strangely enough.

I scribbled viciously over the words on the paper and glared at the man sleeping in the seat next to mine. I hadn’t been lying - his snoring was ridiculously noisy, and his briefcase was digging into my shin hard enough, I feared the imprints of the latches would become permanent.

When he let out a snore that was somehow louder than any before, I shifted in my seat and turned my attention back to the letter I’d tried to write. The words stared up at me, mocked me with their existence, and I crumpled up the paper. It wasn’t something they needed to ever read. Sure, Harry understood the basics of my home-life, but putting them out like that? No, not appropriate.

Sighing, I settled further in my seat and stared at the dark sky outside the window. Sheets of clouds puffed up under the plane, milky-grey in the moonlight, and a span of black spread out below them. The lights on the wings flashed in a steady rhythm, all but screaming “We’re here, we exist, don’t cross our path”.

Hours had dragged on, and they continued to tick by slowly - enough that I almost began to wonder if time had frozen outside of the aeroplane. Sleeping wasn’t an option, hadn’t been since I boarded. How could I when I was consumed by the feeling that I lost something integral to my life, something I would never in a million years get back? The most important part of me was a thousand miles behind me, and each second that passed merely reminded me that an outsider never would have belonged.

Watching the sun rising was much different high up in the sky than it was when my feet were on solid ground. Uninhibited by buildings, it should have been more breathtaking than the ones I witnessed while in Holmes Chapel. But it fell short of the beauty I watched from the window of a quaint, comfortable home. The ones that spread pink-golden fingers over a small English town, the ones that happened while people I’d grown to love slept on in the other rooms. The one Harry and I sat together for just yesterday.

Sleeping-Businessman snorted himself awake when the pilot came on over the loudspeaker, bolting upright as the seatbelt lights flickered on. He never moved his briefcase. He never apologised for any disruption to the people around him. I didn’t care.

My mother waited just outside the terminal once the plane landed. Deep inside of me was a voice that pointed out the difference between Anne’s embrace and my mother’s arms, but I ignored it, breathed in the scent I’d known since I was a baby - white musk and shampoo with a subtle undertone of paint. Her shoulders shook, her breathing unsteady, and I made no move to comfort her.

I couldn’t. I was too close to breaking apart myself.

She gave me a tremulous smile after we parted, and her hands, thinner than I remembered them being, cupped my cheeks. My eyes burned with exhaustion and tears.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so glad you’re home.”

She guided me through the airport to the baggage claim, where my father stood waiting. He turned when my mom called his name, and I couldn’t stem the tears any longer. I cried as he swept me up into a tight hug. His hand stroked gently over my hair, the same way it did whenever I was ill as a child and when, at eight-years-old, I had to stay overnight in hospital after getting twelve stitches in my forehead.

My mother wrapped her arm over my shoulder while my dad grabbed my luggage. Nobody would have known we were little more than a family bound by blood; they played the role of doting parents so well, and I the tired but loving daughter. Each step toward the exit felt like I was going in the wrong direction.

The first letter came within a week of me being home. My chest ached at the sight of Anne’s familiar handwriting, and I struggled to read her words through my tears. She thanked me for the letters I left behind for them - and the essay I’d written. She told me how surprised she was to find out about Sophie, and that I even had a sister in the first place. It wasn’t a particularly long message, but it meant the world to me. It sparked a desire to go back to Holmes Chapel and leave West Point in the past.

Harry wrote next: a four-page missive, front and back, that bounced from topic to topic. There was no steady flow to the topics. In fact, it felt more as if it was stream of consciousness on his part. Whatever came to mind went down on paper. It was exactly like him.

That kicked off a series of correspondence between us. I’d just get my response sent back when another letter would be in the post box within a day or two. I took to writing two copies of my letters to him, one to send and the other for myself so I had reference while reading his replies.

Our conversations grew deeper the more we wrote. We still joked and teased each other, and he regularly relayed messages from Liza. But more often than not, I found myself confiding in him all the hopes I had for the future, my fears… the way I still struggled with Sophie’s disappearance, how it had grown worse since coming back home.

In return, he told me about auditioning for X Factor and how nervous he’d been - so certain he would make a fool of himself, he nearly threw up backstage before his try-out. I wasn’t surprised that he’d decided to follow that dream. If anyone deserved to find success chasing their heart’s desires, Harry certainly did.

Finding out he hadn’t made it broke my heart; he tried so hard, and I knew how much it meant to him. I wasn’t too pleased to hear he’d been placed with four other boys who also didn’t get through. Quite the opposite, really. I was worried: What if they didn’t get along? What if they failed to get any attention before fading into obscurity? It would undoubtedly crush Harry to not have that chance.

Classes started up a month and a half after I arrived back home. Thankfully, the chaos of Sophie’s disappearance had faded during my year away, so I was able to freely walk through the corridors without being inundated with pitying looks or the incessant questioning. It was feather pathetic, I thought, that I’d had friends while living in a completely different country, but here, in the town I’d grown up in with people I knew from birth... I had none.

The hours spent after school were lonely, with no sister and both of my parents working until late in the afternoon. To keep my mind off how alone I was, I decided to get a job. Unfortunately, the only place near enough that I wouldn’t have to rely on my parents for a lift was the farm a couple of miles behind our house.

The old man hadn’t wanted to hire me - too many summers were spent with Sophie, running through his cornfields, and he held a grudge for that - but his wife hadn’t been so reluctant. He caved to her demands, giving me the task of cleaning stalls and helping feed the livestock.

It was solid work, though it didn’t pay much. I went home every night, exhausted and smelling like manure and animals. But I slept more deeply than I had in years. I didn’t dream about Sophie.

Or Harry.