Chapter One

Funerals are never going to be fun. My aunt's was no exception to this. I was the crier in the family too, and it was never pretty. It also didn't help that my temperature was 104.2 degrees Fahrenheit when we were supposed to be getting ready to leave the house.

My cousin Stuart, the only person vaguely holding himself together, laid out my clothes for me on a chair.

"Are you sure you can make it today?" he asked cautiously. I leaned over the side of my bed and retched up whatever was left in me, which was really only water at this point. "I'm sure Aunt Sally would be okay with you saying goodbye to her at her grave in a couple of days."

I started crying – I'd like to think this was more to do with grief than my fever.

I assume Stuart did not know how to respond to this, so he merely asked, "How many covers do you have on?"

"I'm so cold." I shivered and choked on my tears.

Stuart tugged one away kindly. "It'll make you worse. You'll overheat."

"I'm not a boiler," I whimpered in response. If Stuart weren't also my best friend, he probably wouldn't risk being contaminated by my germs as much as he was. As well as that, I could be even more of a pain in the arse when I was ill.

"You might not be a boiler," Stuart said, reaching forward to feel my sweaty forehead, "but you certainly are boiling."

I leaned forward and oh-so-pleasantly dry heaved into the bucket underneath me. "Maybe I'm dying," I suggested sadly. "Maybe I'm dying of grief. That happens to people, you know."

Stuart, I'm sure, rolled his eyes at this. "Usually these people are very old and it is because they are grieving for their significant other."

I started bawling again. "You don't think I loved Aunt Sally as much as an old lady loves her husband."

Stuart ignored me. "Do you think it would be insulting to bring a vomit bucket into church?"

"Insulting to who – God or Sally?" I asked.

My cousin bypassed this question, instead saying, "I'll look for some paper bags instead." He moved away from the end of my bed, about to leave the room before I noticed something.

"I can't wear that, Stu," I told him seriously, staring at the clothes he'd laid out on my chair.

Stuart pursed his lips tensely. "I know you feel shoddy, Kit, but you can't go to church in pyjamas." I didn't see any reason why The Almighty wouldn't love my penguin PJs, but I'd accepted such already.

"Yeah," I said, interrupted by my body convulsing in a cough, dispelling phlegm from my lungs. Gross. I spat it in the bucket with my puke. Stuart did not look like he appreciated this sight. What had I been trying to say anyway? "Bleh," I said while rubbing my nose. " I can't go like a clown in mourning either."

Stuart did not see my point. "You are in mourning," he said.

"Am I also a clown?" I asked, starting to cough again.

Stuart obviously took pity on me. He sighed. "What do you want to wear then?"

"Something not ugly," I suggested, pulling my duvet up over my goose-bump-covered shoulders and rolling on to my side. I needed a bit more sleep before dealing with this.

My cover was pulled down a while later when Stuart informed me that I needed to be ready to leave, uh, now. I was sure he was lying just to get me to move; it was a fairly effective tactic of his.

"Do I smell like I'm sick?" I asked him, sitting up slowly in bed.

"Yeah... but you are sick," Stuart said. He pulled a packet of mints out of his pocket and offered one to me to remove the smell from my mouth at least. I took one, but did not put it in my mouth until I'd swallowed another two aspirin.

I managed to stand, feeling irrepressibly dizzy and walked past Stuart to the bathroom. I coughed a bit more phlegm up and into the sink, washed my face, and pulled my unrecognisably messy hair into a ponytail. I really did look like death. I tried unsteadily to at least apply a small amount of make-up so I looked more acceptable.

Stuart wasn't there when I returned to my room to pull on the new clothes he'd laid out for me, which looked like they might even belong to me (unlike the previous set). I pulled on the plain black skirt and grey turtleneck, probably the happiest to be warmly dressed person on the hot July day.

I wrapped my blanket around me when I was ready, traipsing carefully down the stairs with it. Stuart was waiting at the front entrance of the big house, which had previously belonged to our grandparents and now to their children.

"Where's everyone else?" I asked quietly.

Stuart was dressed more smartly than I'd seen him in years. He, by nature, tended to always look like he'd fallen out of a ditch the night before and hadn't bothered to do anything about it. Obviously he couldn't show up to our aunt's funeral in his usual scraggly jeans and t-shirt combination. He was wearing an acceptable black suit now and even his permanently in disarray brown hair seemed to have taken on some semblance of neatness. How ironic that today I would be the biggest mess in the family.

"You look weird," I informed him as nicely as possible.

"Then I look how I feel," he replied, "as I'm certain you do too." I stuck my tongue out at him and burst into another coughing fit.

"I think my temperature might be down a bit," I said enthusiastically. "It might only be a hundred and one now." Stuart ignored my hope in the area and brought my black coat over to me. "You'd made a great nurse, you know," I told him. I doubted he was going to take it as the compliment I meant.

"There are a couple of paper bags in the pocket in case you need to puke again," Stuart notified me. I nodded – I'd had to eat another cracker before taking more pills so there was always the risk.

I sniffed grossly and looked around again. Hadn't I asked a question about this? "Where is everyone?" I asked again.

"They didn't mean it in an offensive way at all, Kit," Stuart said slowly. "Aunt Rosie and my mum and everyone else just thought it would be better if they weren't exposed." Aunt Rosie was my mum, so lovely that even she was pawning me off on my cousin.

"To me," I added, about to sob. "I can't even grieve for Aunt Sally with other people. No one wants be around me."

Stuart bit his lower lip, clearly only putting up with me behaving like this because of the temperature. "First of all, it's your germs they don't want to be exposed to, and second of all, I'm here, aren't I?" Blatantly just pulled the short straw, I thought moodily.

"Sally would be around me if she were here," I said and promptly burst into tears. Stuart comfortingly pulled me into a tight hug, knowing I was right about our kind young aunt. The hug was sort of ruined by the fact that he was trying to usher me out of the door at the same time.

Stuart even allowed my blanket into the old Renault he was driving, understanding quite how pathetic I could be when I was sick. He drove cautiously on the twisty channel island roads. We'd both grown up in London, but my mother's side of the family came from Jersey and had been brought up there, and so understandably Sally had wanted to be buried there.

I glanced at my cousin, wrinkling my nose. "You're sweating," I said.

Stuart stared at me unhappily for a few seconds, waiting for a car to pass us. "You love to state the obvious, don't you?" That was mean.

"I just wanted to know if you were getting ill too," I explained tightly, wrapping my blanket around me in a needy fashion.

"It's a hot day, Kit. People sweat on hot days when they're wearing dark suits." He was talking to me like I was half his age, not just four days his junior.

"I'm sweating," I said.

Stuart glanced at me, as if to confirm. "Yes, you're sick."

I think we were both relieved to arrive at the church.

My cousin was careful at choosing his words to get me out of the car after we'd parked. "I'm afraid to say it might be a good idea to relinquish your hold on the blanket, Kitkat."

I started up another coughing fit, spitting the phlegm out in my handkerchief – this, apparently, was not enough for him to change his mind, so I climbed out of my seat sans blanket. Staring at the church, the fact really hit me. Sally was gone, and I would never be with her again. Such realisation immediately brought out another burst of tears, real, unattractive, loud, attention-grabbing ones.

Stuart looked at me in surprise at the hyperventilating noise I was making in my attempts to discontinue my crying. "I can't," I gasped, "stop."

He patted my head softly. "You don't have to, Kit."

"Yes," I gasped, "I do." I didn't want people to see me like this, uncontrollable and choked.

Stuart led me up to the church, arm around me to keep me steady. I thought I might have been hallucinating when I swore I saw a tear making a track down his cheek. He stopped me outside the doors of the church. "You know what Sal would have said?" he asked. I shook my head, confused. "She would have said we were stupid for crying over her, and go out and have some fun while we're still young enough to be careless." There was no mistake there; Sally would have meant careless, knowing her, not just carefree.

I blinked at him, getting my breathing under control for a moment I replied monotonously, "I'm not careless."

"I sure know that."

That response didn't come from Stuart.

Oh God, here it came, I pulled a paper bag quickly out of my coat's pocket, leaned into it and proceeded to puke up the cracker from earlier.

Andrew Wallace always did have nice timing.

A/N: I know, what am I doing writing another story when I've still got All Play and No Work going on, and a month of potentially life altering exams ahead of me. However, I just had this idea nagging at me and it felt like something I could hopefully not get stuck on and forget about. Also, with only one chapter left of All Play and No Work, I wanted to have something to concentrate on when that's finished, and so Rag Doll came about. The first chapter's quite short, but the others shouldn't be. Anyway, if anyone has bothered to start reading this story, thank you, and please review with any thoughts.