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Delta's Return to Reality pt. 2
Delta’s fever didn’t break for several days, and she didn’t return to school until the following week. The only person who had noticed her absence was Shiloh; everyone else was mired in the rumor mill that had opened since Grania’s death. While not being considered popular or even well-liked, she was known for her art pieces and independent spirit, and now there were all sorts of speculation over her final hours.
When Delta entered class that day, Shiloh noticed her wasted features and sensed how ill she really had been. She didn’t look at him or anyone else. During lunch he sought her out in the library. “Are you alright?” he asked, genuine compassion in his question.
Delta nodded, but her answer was betrayed by the dark shadows under her eyes. He sat beside her and carefully watched her face. “Did you hear about Grania?” Shiloh asked, attempting to carry a conversation.
“What happened?” Delta asked in a whisper. She had not learned anything else beyond the one news bulletin.
“Apparently she was stabbed to death at her house, late one night last week,” he answered, shaking his head. “She didn’t deserve that.”
“Do they know who did it?”
“I don’t think so. They’ve questioned some people around here, but I don’t think they really know anything yet.”
In a flat voice she asked, “Do you know Jude?”
Shiloh paused. “I’ve seen him around a couple of times, he seems a bit strange. But he’s been gone about as long as you have been.”
She bit her lip and stared at the table.
“Yeah, things have been kinda crazy here lately,” he continued, practically talking to himself.
Delta passed the remainder of the day in a daze; after school she wandered around town, all but searching for Jude. She finally found him on the outskirts, relaxing against a chain-linked fence and puffing a cigarette.
“Those are bad for you,” she stated simply, trying to keep emotion out of her voice.
He squinted at her and, with a smile, ostentatiously put out the cigarette against the pavement. “How are you?” he asked pleasantly.
“You killed her, didn’t you?” It was more a statement than a question.
He stared blankly at her face, a picture of psychotic innocence.
“Why?” Her voice trembled.
“Why not?” he retorted. Seeing the shock on her face, he added, “Besides, you’re the one who asked me to do it. You have as much a hand in it as I do.”
“I do not!” she yelled wildly.
Jude rose to his feet, frighteningly calm. “Yes you do. You wanted her to die. If you had been there you would have relished every second of it.” He stepped closer, his face inches from hers. “You would have done it yourself if you weren’t such a coward,” he taunted, his gaze penetrating her panic-filled eyes.
“No…” she whispered.
He smiled again, smugly. “You asked for it. Enjoy your freedom. I’m certainly enjoying mine.” He swaggered past her up the street.
She stood motionless. A long while after, she returned home and crawled into bed to pass into a fitful sleep. Her dreams featured Grania’s voice, taunting and cruel, but interrupted by desperate pleas and screams for help. In the brief time she had known Jude, she learned enough about him to accurately visualize his crime; nothing would stop the scene from replaying in her mind the entire night. She heard his voice again and again: you wanted her to die. Her feverish dreams reached their apex when she shifted her pillow and felt the outline of a knife underneath, making her cry out in horror.
Jude didn’t show up for school anymore, but Delta didn’t particularly care. Her blackouts were longer and more frequent, almost entire days at times. She regarded everything and everyone around her with complete apathy. Her mother felt helpless as she watched her daughter grow even more quiet and moody.
Shiloh distanced himself from Delta, hoping she’d only need time to break from her malaise, but finally lost his temper one afternoon. “What is wrong with you?” he half-yelled.
Startled, Delta looked at him with tired eyes.
“You’ve barely spoken the past weeks, and you keep getting thinner,” he said, his face flushed. “There’s obviously something going on and it’s going to eat you up from the inside if you don’t talk about it!”
She bit her lip and stared at the ground. “I’m sorry,” she said softly.
Shiloh’s tender heart softened. “I didn’t mean to yell at you,” he apologized. After a silent moment, he said, “Listen, Grania’s family is doing a show of her art tonight as a memorial. She was supposed to be pretty good. You want to go?”
Delta nodded before she realized what she was doing.
Shiloh smiled. “Alright. I’ll come by your house around five. It’s close, so we can just walk there.”
Later that afternoon, Delta and Shiloh entered the church, where its main room had been emptied to accommodate various canvases and a crowd of people milling from artwork to artwork. At first Delta didn’t want to look at the pieces, but her eyes were powerlessly drawn to them.
They were good. The colors were vivid and harmonious. But what shocked Delta the most were the subjects; they were all varieties of fantastical creatures, princesses, spirits, the very things illustrated in her fantasy books. In short, the last thing she would have associated with the Grania she knew. “She liked them too…” she whispered in astonishment.
“What?” Shiloh asked, standing close beside her.
Delta didn’t hear him. She continued to stare at the paintings, struggling to contain her emotion. In the front of the room she spotted a couple speaking to the guests, Grania’s parents. A lump formed in her throat, but she determinedly approached them and studied their faces.
Grania had definitely taken after her mother, but had worn the same style of glasses as her father. They smiled and chatted with the visitors, but the deep lines etched in their face indicated their grief. Delta eventually came to the front of the room and stared into their eyes. “I’m very sorry for your loss,” she said. Grania’s mother grasped her hand in appreciation, and in that moment Delta almost told them everything. But she felt the presence of others waiting behind her, and reluctantly walked away. Like a lightning flash, she was struck by the most wrenching realization, and rushed outside through a side door.
In a moment Shiloh joined her. “Are you okay?”
She didn’t notice him for a moment, but continued to speak to herself. “She was a real person,” she whispered. “Not some villain in a fairy tale.” She paced along the pavement, as if in midst of a difficult decision. “He said no one should have any power over me, yet as long I as stay quiet, he rules me.” She stopped and looked straight at Shiloh. “I have to tell them.” she said.
“Tell who what?” Shiloh asked, bewildered.
“I have to tell them who killed Grania.” she answered, giving his hand a brief squeeze. For the first time there was a glimmer of light in her eyes. “Maybe then she’ll forgive me.”
She reentered the church, trailing her fingers along the fragments of colored glass in the windows. She still held Shiloh’s hand with her other, and led him through the door.