Umbra

Umbra: Latin for shadow, shade, dark, dust, ghost. During a solar eclipse the world becomes the area of Umbra… the area in total darkness, but isn’t the eclipse what everyone wants to see, the rare beauty and intriguing flaw? The sun, necessary to the world’s life, completely hidden and everyone wants a bit of it, even though certain death would be imminent. The earth is caught between the contrasting moon and sun… Will it go for the sun- survival, life, warmth- or the solar eclipse- chilled, different, and ghostly? But of course, it’s not as simple as that, there are forces working against the world and things are not as simple as saying so. Umbra… What will she choose: is there a choice when it’s destined?

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3. Chapter Three

 

Almost five intense, weary, painful, drugged up months had past and discharge was allowed. Gracelynn woke up in the crisp and clinical ward, little light meandering through the plants outside in the thought courtyard. The thought of going home buzzed off the corners of her head and her eyes fluttered as she stretched every repaired limb of her body, hands reaching out for the poles of the bed board that seemed all too very prison-like.

The last few months had sent her to the brink and back. Routine was not in get nature: breakfast- a previously difficult task, cleaning, thought garden, crafts at weekend or lessons on weekdays, therapy, cookery classes which seemed more like "eating's-not-so-scary-you-stupid-anorexic", nap, more therapy, dinner, television, bed or if that wasn't a part of your plans, sedation. The exhaustive list seemed to drug her into depression even more, but it soon became apparent that wasn't an option. Get better or you die.

"Discharge day Gracie." a matronly lady bleated.

"I couldn't forget a thing like that, Mallory." She replied with a fresh smile upon her face.

"Nurse Sophie will be on her way to prepare you." Mallory said as she clomped away on her sturdy block heels. Nurse Sophie a young nurse, around the age of twenty-six, played the biggest role in Gracelynn's recovery. Her sweet honey blonde hair that curled into helter-skelter's, periwinkle eyes and tall frame annoyingly resembled Elina. To begin with Gracelynn couldn't help but think the doctors and nurses had captured her old friend and were using her as a pawn to recovery. She couldn't forget how acutely insane she sounded. But with her help a jigsaw piece of a shattered mourning brain slotted back in.

She could see Nurse Sophie trotting down the hall, sugary, sweet coils bouncing up and down.

"Gracelynn sweetheart," her long arms elongated and cocooned around Gracelynn's back "We're all going to miss you so, so much. Even Mallory and you know that sour old trout”. A few months ago this simple act of sheer kindness would have been unwelcome but now she reacted by doing the same.

"I'm going to miss you so much too." Tears of jumbled emotions swallowed up her eyes. She felt like saying so much more but such words hadn't been invented so kept it short and sincere.

"Okay," Sophie swept up her tears and flapped her hands framing her face as if it'd blow the emotions away. "You have a final meeting with the Dr Hilsbourgh in therapy room B7. I'll make sure all your stuff's packed up." She took her hands from her face and pinched on to the now supple apple of Gracelynn's cheek.

Gracelynn walked with rhythm in her step along the ward wearing her hospital pyjamas for the last time. She loved how she now appeared out of place next to the weeping spirits and gaunt souls. Passing each one she gave a look that said 'this will be you soon'. Some sent looks of betrayal to her and others gave looks of admiration and envy. One face caught her eye the most- Gem Walker. Previously the two sat in beds placed next to each other and she would share her tips of spitting food into an opaque cup and wrapping jumpers round your hips to make you appear larger to family and friends. This, however, led to Gracelynn losing another fourteen pounds leaving her at no more than eighty pounds. Gem threw a disgusted face, as she lay child-like in a bed in the area where the most unwell of the ward were held.

Within a couple of minutes she was standing outside the sturdy metal door that led to the room she had sat in so many a time before as she grilled her brain for an ounce of progress. She chapped her knuckle on the door that clanked as she did so.

"Come in please," A familiar, snorty voice rang and she hauled open the stiff door. Dr Hilsbourgh sat on a padded twirling office chair, his piercing eyes leaping over his spectacles leaning on his nose. "Ah Gracelynn, please have a seat," He said his hand guiding her towards a much less comfortable seat, which she had come to learn after four hour therapy sessions she was jailed in at the start of her stay. "Just a few questions to confirm your release, that's all."

"Okay." She blinked down at the linoleum ground as her muscles grew tighter. If she answered something wrong would they prevent her discharge? What was the wrong answer? He was hardly the most settling person, the stiff professionalism dismayed her.

"First one. How would you assess your relationship with food? Are you comfortable with eating, or does the content intimidate you?"

"I'm fine with it." She said picking the clear answer.

"Fine, or comfortable?"

"It's perfectly fine," She grew exasperated. This was going to be a strained session. "I- I eat whatever they put in front of me. I'm sure they've told you this." She fought back; nobody was going to put her down after all she had achieved recently. And that appeared to be exactly what was happening.

"These are just standard questions, Miss Daniels. Please, answer them properly please," He tilted his head down as if he were a parent giving their child a warning. "Now, do you feel as though you can eat a variety of food to provide you with a balanced and nutritional meal?"

"Like the food diary says, I've had a minimum of one-thousand seven-hundred calories a day and I've been taking the vitamins for my anaemia now, so-" She began to defend.

"Answer, please"

"Yes, yes of course."

The next forty-five minutes proved to follow a pattern of explaining and arguing and obvious answers. But if there was one thing Gracelynn had learned here it was to go with the flow. As much as she grew to love Nurse Sophie as a friend, there weren't many friends in this ward. Not many people you'd want to be your friend anyway. Since the notification of her release a fortnight ago, Diana and her arranged plans for her entering into the world once more. Going back to her old school would mean resitting a year and confrontation with people from her past. Things with Adrian had been less than 'peachy' since his first and only visit to hospital and the continuous stream of unanswered texts. It was during the time Gracelynn was situated next to Gem and her weight plummeted even more. He selfishly thought that she "had changed", she "couldn't possibly love him" if she didn't "give a shit about recovery". His greedy assumptions drove her insanely furious. Furious to the point she had to prove him wrong.

But now she was going to board at Quinciple Independent in the Cheshire Countryside two-hundred miles away from the poison of the city. And this was good. Gracelynn's head had played through all the options and possibilities in her head and how she had the chance to take her life and mould it into any form she wished. It put her at ease to know her twin cousins, Mia and Lucca, attended there too. Making friends possibly wouldn't be so strenuous with their help. 

"Okay Gracelynn. Your assessment is over. You're free to go once you've signed this," A smile drew itself up her dimpled cheeks. Freedom was hers and not a 'thought garden' kind of freedom, it was real this time. Complete freedom of a new life. Dr Hilsbourgh rotated a sheet of paper with lengthy clauses and a dotted line at the bottom, fit for her signature. She scribbled out an attempt at her name as her hands jittered with excitement. She bolted for the door before he did a robust cough to alert her. She turned and his back was tall, neck tight and hand placed out to receive hers. Gracelynn turned and kindly accepted his hand and gave a strong shake. "It was nice working with you Miss Daniels." He said with what he would assume was a smile but was not much more than a grimace.

"You too." She said out of kindness. She hadn't lost her acting skills.

She exited out of the metallic door, giving a humph at the door for the last time. Outside was Nurse Sophie, Nurse Mallory and three or four other Nurses. Sophie handed Gracelynn her backpack, touching her hand for a moment.

"Come on; let's get you to your mum. She's waiting outside at the car park with the car, she's just called up." She proceeded to say her goodbye's and hugged the nurses outside the therapy room, even Mallory, and Sophie collected two bin bags at her feet holding Gracelynn's possessions.

Gracelynn scampered down the maze of halls, wards and corridors that she was imprisoned in for the past five months, taking in the antiseptic, medical smell for the last time, she hoped, for a long time.

Outside was her mothers athletic car that popped out against the bleakness of the surrounding area.

"Mum!" She called over to her as she fiddled with her phone beside the door.

"Gracie!" Her arms leapt open into a wide obtuse shape that had a perfect space for Gracelynn's body. The two collided together like a comet and a planet and everything around them seemed to end, just for the two of them. Diana took up a lock of her daughters hair and ruffled it softly in her hands, it was multiple times thicker.

Although there were visiting periods, after a month in recovery the doctors suggested Diana not visit. Gracelynn was losing even more weight and it seemed to spark a reminder of what started the breakdown: her fathers death. It was only two weeks previous when they came back into contact for her release action plan. And that alone was only three, two hour visits.

"Oh sweetie," Diana said while kissing her daughters forehead muffling her voice. "I missed you so much. Well done sweetie, well done." She held her face in the palms of her hand to get a full view of her rejuvenated face. For some reason everybody wanted a bit of Gracelynn's face today.

She turned to Nurse Sophie and collected her bags, "Thank you." She quivered and walked back to her mothers car. 

While buckling herself in Diana questioned, "Who was that?"

"A good friend, Sophie." She said simply and matter a factly.

"What did she do that made you love her so much?" Gracelynn wasn't sure if this was research or a basic example of inquisitiveness.

"She reminded me of someone. That's all."

"Okay," Still not sure of what her daughter meant, she brushed it off understanding she wasn't going to get much further in unravelling. "I have your new school uniform back home. And a few other surprises."

"What kind of surprises?" The cryptic undertones of their conversation began to eat at Gracelynn. Secrets were what got her into the mess.

"I think it'll be more fun if you wait." She said with a devilish smile.

What was her mother up to? What possible surprises could she have concocted? She knew this woman well enough to know she could come out with anything and so a world of possibilities swashed about her mind.

"Ah Diana, I missed your nonsense." She sighed jokingly.

The car journey was pleasant, mainly because it was so very, very normal. Natural. Just like when she, Diana and Robin used to whizz down the roads at the weekend and blast old nineteen-eighties rock anthems that her late Grandma used to listen to, then take a trip to the zoo or to Hyde park or go shopping in Covent Garden.

Then it came to her. She tapped at the multimedia board in the car and dictated, "North glass open. Play playlist seventy-four, volume sixteen." She turned to Diana and a giggle bubbled out of her mouth and the two shared a look. 

The multimedia board made smooth mechanical noises before a robotic female voice said "Now playing, playlist eighties classic rock." and the panoramic window on the roof descended away.

"Have you ever read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, mum?" She asked sweetly.

"Yes, your Grandma. She gave me it to read the summer I told her I wanted to become a journalist," Aware of the similar situation, Diana stuttered. "Have you?"

"Yes, the nurse that brought my bags. She gave me it. Charlie, he's insane, I guess. I know the symptoms. He lost a lot of things." She began. It was very rare she was this brutally honest with her mum. "I'm going to do it. Like Sam." She stood up on the leather seats that she knew her mother cherished, especially the clean magnolia colour. But it was time. The wind that the roads captured blasted by her and the smell of the lavender plants that were planted to mask the sulphurous air of London entered her nose. Her hair whipped around as if the strands commanded the world. After a few minutes she slipped back down into her seat and breathed out the rush.

"How do you feel?" She asked knowing the answer already.

"Infinite."

They arrived back home, Diana parked the car, shut down the multimedia system and all the noise that was left was the tuneful hum of cars.

Gracelynn walked up to the door and tried to calm her emotions from returning to this house. Taking a full gasp of lavender infused air through the small 'O' shaped opening in her mouth she walked inside.

On the steps to upstairs there was an army blue, gray and green pleated skirt and a shirt that had sashes of material to tie into a bow at the neck. She walked over to it in a trance and rubbed her thumb and forefinger upon the material of the skirt.

"Welcome back." A solemn voice came in the side of her ear. She jumped like a gazelle, startled.

"Hi Adrian." She said weary but attempting a smile. He was particularly rude to her the last time they met at the hospital.

But then he smiled too arching his neck up and she took that as a positive thing. She dragged herself into a jog, arms open to take Adrian into them. But his arms lay tightly at his side. She hugged him anyway and his arms threw out to his sides and patted her back at a distance. Ignoring this, she went up to his lips with hers and closed her eyes.

"Uh... Gracelynn." He stuttered in an upward inflection, not even bothering to call her Lili. Behind him was a pale shadow that seemed to blow her off of him.

"Hi Gracelynn" It was a girl with the frame of a ballet dancer, hair like threads of spun gold and blue eyes that seemed to suck you in.

Elina.

"Hi Elina, how are you?" She said out of politeness. The confusement overpowered her as Elina took up Adrian's hand into such a way she used to.

"I'm great, thank you," Her blue eyes looked up to Adrian in admiration. "The question is, how about you? I've not seen you in almost a year."

"I'm great." The shock stopped any more from coming out.

"That's good. We can't wait for you to get back to school, even if you are repeating a year. We'll still get to see you. Why don't we all get a drink?" Elina said gleefully. When the hell did she get so confident? Gracelynn thought and anger bubbling.

Then it came to her, she wasn't aware of her moving schools and not having to repeat a year. She had something to hit her with.

"Okay, I have some news for you though." She called as Elina and Adrian skipped through to the kitchen hand in hand

"Brilliant, I need some gossip!" She giggled "Adi here isn't much for it." Adi? Adi? Are you kidding me? What a juvenile nickname. Gracelynn cringed inside, the monster in her mind growing and growling.

"Champagne okay for you, Gracelynn? I think this event calls for some, don't you?"

"Sure, yeah." Gracelynn could feel herself spacing out with only a clutch of Diana's hand on her shoulder to bring her back.

Adrian uncorked the bottle and Elina produced an airy-fairy high pitch squeal as some of the liquid went on her. But Adrian wasn't staring at Elina. He was staring at her. What was his thinking? There was a wall that wasn't there before that masked his thoughts.

Four glasses were laid out, filled with the bubbling liquid, dished out by Elina.

"To Gracelynn!" She chanted.

"To Gracelynn!" They said in chorus.

"Thank you everyone." Gracelynn muttered shying away.

"Should we go through to the living room?" Adrian suggested and everyone followed like sheep, except from Gracelynn who was growing more reluctant to be here.

She observed the living room, it was now a lime green, rather than the ashen white it was before, and they sat down on the plush seats.

The one question that was beginning to slam into her mind came out like word vomit, "So... When did- this- happen?" She was unsure how her tone came across but it didn't seem to be noticed if it was bitter.

"Well, I don't even know. I think there's always been something. Don't you Gracie? Well I guess it was around the time of the Christmas dance. You'd been away a month. Not from school. I mean in that place. But you won't want to talk about that. Anyway, where was I?"

"Christmas dance." Gracelynn said robotically.

"Oh yes. Christmas dance. I guess I was pretty quiet since you hadn't been in school too much. But Adrian, he came up to me at my locker," Her eyes locked onto his and gave a stare that was done by delusional girls in those high school movies. "And he picked me up and he kissed me." Then they re-enacted it. An invisible kick in the stomach was applied to Gracelynn.

"I'm not coming back to school." More word vomit. Adrian seemed to choke on some tongue which pleased her: just the reaction needed to soothe the kick.

"What?" He coughed up.

"Yes, I don't know if you were aware of the school uniform on the steps? I'm moving to Quinciple Independent." She tried to seem confidant, combining her acting and therapy techniques.

"That's not in London." Adrian said, unsure whether that was a question or a statement himself.

"No, it's not. Cheshire. And I don't need to repeat the year." She cocked her neck and smiled sarcastically.

"Well that's great you don't have to repeat Gracie!" Elina perked, not catching the point. When did she get so clueless? Christ, she was the first in her class twice.

"Yeah great," Her eyes widened out of their sockets as she grew angrier. "Excuse me," She glugged down the champagne, possibly not the best plan for a person only entering recovery, "I must go to my room." She raised the empty glass, celebrating her anger, charged out the room, collected her Quinciple Independent uniform and charged up the stairs.

Her room was like it was before; magenta sheets, pink primrose walls and gossamer curtains. Her body collapsed to the bed like a mannequin and began to sob.

"Fuck, fuck, fuckety, fuck, fuck, fuck." She exploded with her only listener the bed sheets. Until a gentle rap at the door caught her attention.

"Lili?" That was only one person. It wasn't the male voice that answered it, it was the 'Lili'. The door became ajar as he let himself in.

"So I'm your 'Lili' now am I?"

"You remember that day with... him. And I told you how much it hurt when you left me?"

"I can't forget something like that." She said bluntly, "I can't forget a day like that. Do you remember what happened for the first time with us?"

"I can't forget something like that." He copied.

"Right," She tried to suck up her tears and lifted her head from the covers and sat on them instead, "I thought you might have forgotten while chugging tongues. You know with the girl you said you could never be with?"

Adrian sat like a deer in headlights.

"Well I did what you said."

"Are you kidding?" Her voice went higher to the point just before it broke, "You don't listen to that stuff, it's a test." She said patronisingly before she realised that it wasn't the way to go.

"See, mind games. I've said it once and I'll say it again. You're a lost little girl." He noticed how he stuck a chord with her and her defence mechanisms seemed to become raised.

"Wow. Five months of therapy and I still freaking lost?" She exclaimed, "If anyone's a silly little girl now it's Elina."

"The girl who was first in class?" He bounced back trying to prove her wrong.

"Oh look at me. Blah, blah, blah. I'm Elina and I wear contacts now and I stole my best friend’s guy and he picked me up and kissed me." She tried imitating Elina in a pitchy airhead voice.

"I don't belong to you."

"You called me 'your girl' enough, does it not go two ways? Or do you not stand god damn English?"

"Oh fucking hell Lili." He grew exasperated and his eyes flitted around the room, not sure of his next actions.

The next thing that happened thoroughly perplexed them both. He grabbed her jaw and he planted his lips on hers. There was something much more real, sobering, passionate this time. They were both in the right place now and it seemed to make all the difference. But then there was Elina, she hadn't done anything intentional to Gracelynn. She was only accepting what Adrian gave her. This drove a guilty dagger into her mind.

"But Elina." Her eyes were closed and he was biting at her raspberry coloured lips.

"Lili, I want you. I want to be with you."

"But Adrian, I'm moving away. How could you possibly have me? I've done enough damage to you once, maybe twice. I love you too much to do it three times. You're going to make me a horrible person." With every revelation she moved back from him a little more. Why she stopped, she didn't know. There it was again: the offer. And she was turning it down again.

"You're right." He sighed coming to terms with the truth.

"But like I said, I don't want to lose you. As a friend or as something else." She copied, "We need to stay friends for my sanity... and yours too a little," She paused skimming her mind, remembering watching an old movie: The Notebook. "You know, I saw this movie while staying with my Grandma in New Hampshire in the summer a few years back, The Notebook. The guy he writes letters to his teenage sweetheart. One every day for a year," She smiled down at her sheets, avoiding his reaction and saw her fingers drawing swirls in an attempt to fidget, "I'm not saying all the time, but don't you think it'd be real cute writing to one another?"

"Yeah," He laid his hand out for hers "Deal?"

"Deal."

That was another lesson learned in therapy, compromise. She never believed she'd be putting Dr Hilsbourgh's dreary lectures into action.

"One thing, please don't break Elina's heart. I- I know how much she liked you. And for how long. Just do it slowly. I can't be hurting anyone else."

"Okay," His heart sunk remembering about her, "So when is it you're leaving? I need to get some stationary."

"Next Friday." She could see a brick wall smack him across the face at the early date.

"Guess I'll have to get it quick then," He creaked his neck to the side and stared deeply at her. She produced a small laugh through her closed lips to ease the tension. "Jesus Christ, Gracelynn Daniels, I have no clue what to do with you."

"Well I have an idea, take me back next door and wipe any evidence of my make up off your face." She patted his thigh as a signal for him to stand up.

He swept his chequered shirt across each side of his face and held his hands up in a shrug to see if he was free from lipstick marks.

"Perfect." She breathed, brushing back his dishevelled hair.

The two walked out trying have minimal contact to uphold their agreement.

"Sweetheart." Elina called and patted down on the seat next to her. He followed to where her hand rested and sat down. Jealously rippled through Gracelynn as she watched on. Elina nibbled at Adrian's ear and put her hand round his neck. His face sent out pulses of sadness and guilt. How were they possibly going to retain their plan if he was stumbling so early?

They stayed for another hour, with Elina mostly doing the talking. She was so incredibly different to how she was only a year ago. Gracelynn was always the 'one in charge' of the friendship and it was safe and good that way. Now there was too much of a clash in personalities and it was beginning to strain things. She just wanted to scream that Adrian was with her. But lessons had been learned when she broke peoples hearts.

"Well, we best be on our way Gracie. Me and Adi are going out to dinner tonight." She glared powerfully again at Adrian, blue eyes mad like waves on the ocean.

Gracelynn was glad to see the back of the pair of them. She was sad at seeing Elina change and over Adrian and Adrian accepting Elina's kisses.

"Wasn't that lovely Gracie?" Diana exclaimed shutting over the ajar door.

"Positively delightful," She droned, "Come on, let's get my packing ready."

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