Delta's Return to Reality pt. 1

October 10, 2010
By , McKinney, TX
Her worn, shabby sneakers echoed down the large hallway, and every rustle of the paper pass clenched in her hand magnified to the rush of a gunshot. Delta tried tip-toeing, shuffling, even considered removing her talkative shoes, but every thud cracked against her eardrums, mocking her existence. The pass promised salvation in the library, far away from the chattering masses dining in the cafeteria. Against the right side of the hall, Jude relaxed on the patterned tiles. The pass meant nothing to him; the upturned crucifix emblazoned on his jeans jeered at any talk of salvation. Jude offered a smirk of recognition but said nothing. He usually left Delta alone because there were others more entertaining to taunt. Delta hurried past, still trying to escape the sound of her shoes.
She crossed the threshold into the cozy library and instantly felt unburdened. The librarian had wandered off somewhere, leaving it deserted just as Delta had hoped. She crept to her usual alcove, collapsed in a sagging armchair, and lowered her eyelids. Through a forest of pale lashes she stared at the row of book titles across from her feet, unblinkingly, until the printed spines wavered between each other and meshed into one series of colors. Noise, scent, sensation deadened as she stared unceasingly; her eyes began to throb, drowning out the other pain. ‘Almost there…’ she whispered.
Delta nearly swallowed her tongue as a slender paw clamped onto her shoulder. She inclined her head towards the intruder, the sight of whom drained her face of color.
Tortoise shell glasses sneered down at her, flashing malevolently in the fluorescent lighting. ‘So the little field mouse has crept into her hole again, eh?’ She bared her teeth in a thin-lipped grin.
Her teeth gritted and jaw set, Delta stared straight ahead at the books, desperate to tune out that mocking voice. But Grania refused to relent. ‘Why, look at you! You’re not even reading. At least I choose to skip lunch because I enjoy my alone time. You don’t have anyone to spend time with even if you wanted to!” Delta continued to look away, and didn’t utter a sound. The intruder knelt down against the armchair, looking straight into Delta’s pinched face.
“I bet no one would even notice if you died,” she whispered. There was a predatory glitter in her smile.
Delta silently cursed herself and the tears in her eyes as Grania gave a derisive snort and left. Even after all these years, Grania could still slice her in two with mere words. She rose from the chair and left the library; it was no longer a sanctuary. With each step her profound humiliation converted to a rage that left her trembling and compulsively clenching her fists. She didn’t raise her eyes as she passed Jude again, and counted the tiles until she reached the door of her classroom. There she sat on the cool tiles, drew her knees to her chest, and waited.
At home, her twin brothers were playing as usual, and her mother busied herself in the kitchen. Delta quietly shut the back door and hurried to her room before anyone realized she was there. She closed her bedroom door with a sigh and dropped her book bag onto the beige carpet. Her room was plain, with blank white walls and a twin bed covered by a dusky green blanket. A splintery desk occupied one corner, facing a window. Beside it stood the most distinct feature of the small room: a tall, flimsily constructed shelf crammed with books stored in every position imaginable. Most were aged paperbacks, ailing from cracked spines and loose fibers. Just as she did every afternoon, Delta lightly trailed her fingers against the many titles. With each one that she lingered on, the sound of clashing metal, weeping, and riotous applause reached her straining ears. Behind her pale eyelids, she saw the rustle of silk gowns, the gleam of armor, the bloody glory of two fierce armies locked in combat. The sensations became so strong that as she opened her eyes, she felt the weight of the bejeweled rings on her delicate fingers and the faint prick of a coronet resting on her scalp. A grin briefly lit her drawn face when a rap on the door broke her reverie.
Her mother opened the door. She was a petite woman on the verge of middle age, with faded ginger hair and small, angular features made more pronounced by the premature wrinkles etched in her face. As she leaned into the room, the modest silver cross hanging around her neck swung forward and caught the light. Delta, slightly dazed, focused her gaze on the shining crucifix and stood in expectant silence.
“Are you planning to attend the service tonight?” she asked.
Delta shook her head. “I have too much homework tonight,” she offered.
“You need to plan your homework time better. This is the third week you’ve missed the service.”
“I know,” Delta muttered, her eyes downcast.
Her mother frowned at her reticence. “Well, me and the boys are going in a bit. There’s some leftovers in the fridge if you get hungry.” She gave a faint smile. “Feel better, okay? You’ve seemed off the past few weeks. I love you.” And with that, she shut the door.
Delta struggled with an indefinable urge to say something, anything, to her mother, but gave up when she heard the click of the closed door. A peculiar heaviness dragged her limbs onto her mattress and she closed her eyes; her visions of chivalry replaced by crucifixes and tortoise shell glasses.
School continued its dreary course as Delta watched the clock through each class and remained silent despite her teachers’ insistence. Almost regularly, Grania would appear from the shadows and inflict her own brand of mental torture onto Delta’s battered psyche. More recently her lack of appetite and depression manifested itself in periodic black-outs; entire hours from her days were lost as she retreated into an inner world of exotic creatures and lands, accompanied by companions more grand than she thought possible in reality.
At one point she engaged in a conversation with Jude as he abruptly approached her in the library, where she sat feigning to be busy with school work. He walked past her, but on an apparent impulse returned and pulled out a chair across from her. Delta, not sure how to react, glanced at him then back down at her heavily doodled notebook. After a moment he broke the silence. “What are you doing?” he asked casually.
“Nothing,” she hesitantly replied, too timid to raise her gaze. He studied her intensely; her cheeks burned as she sensed his red-rimmed eyes watching her. A tense silence reigned once more.
“Don’t you ever get sick of Grania bullying you?” he asked.
Embarrassment choked her voice and she sat silent.
Jude frowned. “Well, I would be,” he remarked. “You don’t have to let her do that, you know,” he added, a hint of mockery in his tone.
At last her eyes met his, only briefly; in them was a faint glimmer of hope. Encouraged by even this slight response, he continued. “You can’t let her have that power over you. You shouldn’t let anyone have power over you,” he insisted. “I can stop her. If you want. I can make it so she doesn’t mess with you ever again.”
This time she maintained his gaze with her own. His face was pale, but there was vivacity in it that contrasted with her meek, gray features. She couldn’t look away. His bloodshot eyes, shadowed by a jagged fringe of dark hair, ensnared her gaze, and she squirmed under its intensity. “How?” she asked, with the muted desperation of a desert traveler begging for water from another.
“Don’t worry about that,” he answered. “Just know that I can stop her, if you want me-" The bell rang, dismissing from lunch. “Consider it.” Delta hurriedly gathered her things and rushed out of the library, leaving Jude at the table alone. With a pained smile he rose and left as well.
Throughout the rest of the day Jude’s proposal haunted Delta, as did those burning dark eyes. In the final class of the afternoon, a new student arrived and was seated beside Delta in the back of the room. He was small with a slight build and cropped blonde hair, and his shy eyes only briefly met Delta’s before he stared at his desk for the remainder of the period.
She didn’t see Jude again until the next week, when he was arrogantly leaning against the wall beside her locker. “Well?” he asked without ceremony.
Delta didn’t look up. “Are you going to hurt her?” she asked timidly.
A smile twisted his narrow face. “Why should you care?”
She swung the locker shut and walked away without a word.
The new boy was in a few of her other classes and he seemed as taciturn as Delta. In a rare moment of curiosity, Delta asked him his name.
“Shiloh,” he answered with a gentle smile. His pale eyes were surrounded by a fringe of transparent lashes; his entire appearance seemed as though he would drift away with the slightest stirring of the air. Delta grinned back.
When they were dismissed for lunch, Delta was seized with an urge for being among people, unlike anything she had felt before. Summoning her courage, she walked with the crowd to the cafeteria and sat on the outer fringe of the tables. She only brought a notebook and pen for her habitual doodling. She immediately regretted her decision as she watched with envy the people talking, laughing, connecting with such ease.
Her eyes were burning with tears, frustrated at her inability to be like the others, to be normal. She was on the verge of leaving when someone sat beside her, paper sack lunch in hand. It was the new boy, Shiloh.
“I don’t know anybody really. Do you mind if I sit here?” he asked quietly.
She nodded her head in permission and fiddled with the loose strands on her shirt sleeve as he sat and opened his lunch. He pulled out a plain cheese sandwich and picked at the crust with thin fingers.
Delta finally spoke “How are you liking it here so far?”
He reflected for a moment. “It’s nice, I suppose. I like some of the teachers, like Anderson and Dowell.”
She smiled. “I like them too.”
“But Neiman is kinda intimidating,” he added with a small chuckle.
“Yeah, he is,” Delta agreed. “Wait until you see how particular he is about lab reports. He fails people if they forget to capitalize or write the correct labels.”
“Really?” he asked, his eyes slightly widened.
“Well, maybe not quite that bad,” she consented.
Shiloh laughed and bit into his sandwich.
A familiar voice appeared behind them, and Delta felt chills crawl up her spine.
“Well, look who snuck out of their hole today,” Grania said, her voice honeyed poison.
The words were strangled out of Delta and her limbs froze.
“And who’s this?” she asked pleasantly, smiling at Shiloh. He returned a slight smile, but furrowed his brow. “Ah, you must be the newbie. Welcome! I see you’ve met my dear friend Delta. She’s so much fun to play with, so accommodating,” she spoke, batting Delta between her paws. “I’m glad someone is willing to talk to her. You can’t imagine how bad I feel when I see her sit alone in her little corner, little hole, in the library every day. You’d be surprised at how cruel some can be to people as…helpless as her.”
Delta was visibly trembling. Shiloh looked at her with concern in his eyes.
Grania cheerfully said, “Well, you two enjoy your lunch. I’ll see you later Delta!” She loped off, done with the hunt today.
Shiloh watched Delta’s reddened face for a moment. “She’s not really a friend, is she?” he asked naively.
“I have to go,” Delta choked out, and scampered away without a farewell. On her way to the library, she spotted Jude sauntering in his usual spot. He looked at her expectantly, one eyebrow raised.
Her eyes flashed with fury; she nodded once. Near the library entrance she changed her course and escaped through a metal exit door, heard it clang behind her. She adjusted her backpack and walked down the street as though with actual purpose.
That evening, she told her mother she felt ill and went to bed early. Her dreams were strange and restless, leaving her in a clammy sweat. Well past midnight she woke with a sudden gasp and felt a chill shake her entire body. Tears welled in her eyes and soaked her pillow. She saw those fiery eyes in every shadow and behind her eyelids, and was unable to fall back asleep. “What has he done?” she whispered to the darkness.
Her mother came entered her room in the morning and, alarmed, sat beside Delta. “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” she asked, seeing Delta’s red and swollen face.
“I don’t feel well,” she moaned. Her voice sounded thick and weak.
Her mother pressed a cool, soft hand to her daughter’s forehead, and Delta sighed with comfort from the gesture. “You’re burning up! You’re staying home today.” She kissed Delta’s feverish forehead. “I’ll be back soon; I’m just going to fetch some medicine and broth. Maybe this is why you’ve acted so strange lately,” she added, sounding a bit relieved.
Delta wrapped her blanket tighter around herself and shivered uncontrollably. She dozed fitfully, dreaming of shadows and Grania’s mocking voice.
That day and the next passed by agonizingly slow, as her mother ministered to her with loving care and she struggled to rest. In the evening, she finally felt up to lying on the couch and watching television. She was watching a sitcom rerun when her mother came in and changed the channel, her other hand pressing the phone to her ear. “Yes, I’m watching it. How awful!” she cried out.
Delta’s bleary eyes widened as she saw a picture of Grania flash across the screen. She read the headline underneath and promptly vomited on the floor.
“I’ll call you right back,” her mother said into the phone. Delta was sobbing uncontrollably. “Oh honey, I’m sorry! I thought you were starting to feel better.” She helped her up off the couch. “Go lie down on your bed. I’ll be there right after I clean this up.”

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