Grellie: Lila's Grandmother who is blind.
The mirror over the dresser had a black sheet over it, the full-length mirror on the wall was covered with plywood. Lila had a pang of regret that she couldn’t see herself fully dressed with her hair and make-up. The first people to see her would be those in the church, she realized. She could have lipstick on her teeth for all she knew.
Well, she couldn’t have that. Not on her wedding day.
She went next door to the room Grellie never allowed her into; it had the best mirror in the house. A free-standing, full-length mirror. Lila had been in plenty of times but never looked in the mirror. She respected Grellie’s wishes.
But today was her wedding day and for the first time in twenty-eight years, she was going to disobey her. If Grellie ever found out, though there was no reason why she would, then she would just explain. The most important day of her life to date. Grellie would understand. And if she didn’t understand, she would forgive.
The spare bedroom had the damp smell of a room never aired, the mustiness of a room never cleaned, and the iciness of a room not heated in over thirty years.
Lila felt like a naughty schoolgirl as she pulled back the black sheet, half expecting a monster to jump out. Her heart was in her mouth. But as the fabric fell away, she was taken aback by the sight. Her. Just her. A pretty her.
A beautiful her. Looking so grown up in the dress. Her eyes teared up and she felt ridiculous over such vanity. She took a step backward to get the full view.
It was perfect. She felt perfect. She thought of her childhood, well and truly over now, her parents, the loss of so many things but the joy of what was to come. Silly. All over a dress.
She welled up again, laughed at herself, and tried to waft air at her eyes so that the tears wouldn’t fall and ruin her make-up. But it was too late. A tear ran down her cheek.
‘Damn it.’ She moved closer to the mirror to inspect the damage done to her eye make-up.
Smudged a little.
She did her best with her fingertips to smooth it out again. This would be her only opportunity, no more mirrors until after the church, and then it would be too late.
Close up, she saw her forehead suddenly crease. A sudden movement.
Unusual because she didn’t feel like she was frowning. Lines appearing on her wedding day. Great.
She moved her fingers to her forehead to feel for the bumps but, bizarrely, her fingers did not comply with her reflection. Warning bells went off in her head.
‘Lila,’ she heard Grellie call.
She couldn’t answer, she didn’t want Grellie to hear her voice come from the spare bedroom. Suddenly she didn’t want to explain anything. She’d made a mistake, she knew it. She’d always known Grellie was a rational woman, that her fears must have been for a reason. She’d always respected that, trusted it, however only then truly acknowledged it.
Startled, she stood upright. Her reflection was in sync then. She laughed, realizing her imagination was playing up. She reached her hand out to touch the mirror.
‘Lila, is everything okay up there?’
Suddenly the hand in the mirror turned, grabbed. She felt flesh, cold cold flesh, then she was pulled forcefully through the glass mirror, which felt like an icy blast of air on her skin. She was faced with herself, in a wedding dress.
She looked to her right, the room was displayed back to her like a TV screen.
The stark bed, with brass headboard, the dark, unworn floorboards. The white walls, the dusty bedside tables. A chair against the wall. That was it. Space where she had been standing. The door closed.
‘Well, well, we finally meet in the flesh,’ the girl opposite her said. She didn’t sound like Lila and on further inspection didn’t look exactly like her either. Something was missing behind the eyes.
They were dead, cold.
Lila looked around. The room in which she was standing was the exact reflection of the spare bedroom. Everything reversed. The picture, the bed, the nightstands, the door.
‘Lila!’ she heard Grellie again.
‘I’m here!’ she heard her voice scream out. Desperation. Panic.
‘She can’t hear you,’ the voice sang.
Lila turned to go back out of the mirror but she bumped against cold. Cold nothingness. A wall of cold.
‘And you can’t get out,’ the sing-song voice continued.
‘Who are you?’ Lila finally spoke, anger and fear causing her voice to tremble.
‘Well today,’ she looked down, ‘it looks like I’m the bride. Da - da - da -
da,’ she sang and laughed.
‘Who the hell are you?’
‘Oh no, really, that upsets me. You look at me every day and you don’t see me?’
Lila’s mouth opened, then closed, no idea what to say, her mind moving at the speed of light as she tried to figure it all out. Was it a hoax? Some cruel joke played by her friends on the morning of her wedding? But she knew it was not. It felt too real, she was not imagining this. Her instincts were telling her she was in danger.
‘Well I see you every day,’ the girl continued. ‘I look back at you every day.
You’re not as perfect as you make yourself out to be, are you?’ She smiled slyly.
‘I want to get out of here,’ Lila said, coldly now. ‘Get me the hell out of here. Or else.’
‘Or else what?’ The girl smiled, happy with the challenge. ‘Will you hurt me?’
Lila looked around the reversed room, her eyes scanning for weapons. She was well able to defend herself. You don’t have a grandmother with no eyes, who is afraid of mirrors and hasn’t left her home in over thirty years, living in a wild house on the tip of the headland, without learning how to defend yourself. Well, she could and she would.
She looked around.
Her eyes fell upon one of the bedside lockers, and she remembered hiding a letter opener there after playing a game with a friend. She had been too afraid to bring it back downstairs in case Grellie knew she had the letter opener in her possession. So she had left it there, all those years. Lila headed straight for the locker, her trail sweeping the reflected dust along the floor, but none of it moved. She opened the drawer.
The girl threw her head back and laughed. ‘What on earth are you doing?’
The drawer was empty. Inside was just a black hole, not even a bottom in the drawer.
‘Don’t you get it? They’re just props. Nothing here is real. It’s a reflection.
It’s not real.’
‘Then you’re not real,’ Lila snapped back. ‘That means that you are just a reflection, that you are nothing, that you are not real.’
‘Lila, I’m the most real thing in here right now. I’m the only one who can get out of here.’
‘Lila!’ Grellie called. Her voice was louder now, not just through urgency but because she was getting closer. Lila heard her footsteps on the stairs. She couldn’t make up her mind whether she wanted Grellie to enter the room or not. She wouldn’t though, she wouldn’t know the sheet had been moved.
Unless she felt her way, and she did not want Grellie to touch the glass.
‘Here she is,’ the girl said, raising an eyebrow, looking as though she were about to eat a banquet of food after a lifetime of starvation. ‘I haven’t seen that bitch for a long time. But I suppose she hasn’t seen me either.’ She giggled. ‘You know you did well to listen to the old cow. You never looked in any of the mirrors ever. Twenty-eight years Lila. Why? Were you afraid?’
She didn’t allow Lila to answer.
‘But of all the days to disobey her.’ She tutted as though Lila were a naughty child. ‘The most important day of your life? Looks like I’ll be the one marrying Jeremy tonight. I’ll enjoy that.’
Lila couldn’t help it. She reached out and slapped the girl hard across the cheek. The icy coldness of her cheek stung Lila’s hand. The girl’s head whipped to the side then back again. She held her hand to her cheek, then she started laughing.
‘Well, now I’m going to really enjoy it. Might even dance it in front of a mirror, just so you can watch. Jeremy would like that, wouldn’t he? Come to think of it, you would too.' She winked.
‘If you think I’m going to let you take over my life you’re wrong.’
‘Of course. You don’t think I’d just take your life without asking, do you?
That’d just be rude.’
‘Well, then my answer is no.’
‘I haven’t asked you yet. You haven’t heard the option. You have three chances to say yes.’
‘There is no option. I’m going back through that mirror,’ Lila said with steely determination.
‘You can give me your eyes,’ the girl said, deadly serious now.
‘What? No!’ Lila took a step away from her.
‘Lila!’ She heard Grellie again, anger in her voice now. ‘Come here at once.
Where are you?’ She heard Grellie’s bedroom door open. It would take her a while to feel around the room, realize she wasn’t there.
‘I’m here, I’m in here!’ she yelled.
‘She can’t hear you,’ the girl sang. ‘Now give me your eyes.’
‘No!’ Lila shouted now. ‘This is not funny. I want to get out of here. Let me out!’
The girl took a deep breath. ‘You’re not listening closely enough, Lila. You have one more chance.’
‘Are you crazy? Why would I give you my eyes?’
‘The price of freedom,’ she said simply.
‘Oh my god,’ Lila whispered, her heart hammering. ‘You took her eyes.’
‘Yes, it’s a bit messy,’ the girl said screwing up her nose. ‘Not very nice.
That’s why I refused when I was in your position, but your grandmother was clever. She chose freedom. I don’t know about you though. You. You’re vain. Might not do it. But you’re my only chance. It’s been a long time waiting. She hasn’t made it very easy for me.’
‘How long have you been here?’ Lila asked.
‘I’m not here for polite chit-chat, Lila. I’ve been here long enough. Now you’ve one more chance.’ She took a deep breath as though her life depended on it.
‘You hurt my grandmother,’ Lila said angrily. ‘I will never let you do the same to me.’
‘So what’s the answer? Yes or no?’
‘No,’ Lila said defiantly.
The girl’s face softened, she smiled and let out a long breath as though she’d been holding it for years.
‘Thank you,’ she said simply, her voice had softened too.
‘Take care. It gets cold in here. See you around.’
The girl stepped towards the mirror and in a rush of cold air, she disappeared through to the other side. Lila chased her but once again slammed into a cold, icy nothingness. She watched as the girl looked at herself in the mirror. Lila felt herself automatically move in time with her. She fixed her hair when the girl did, wiped her smudged mascara when the girl did. She took a deep breath. Winked.
‘I’m coming, Grandmother!’ she called sweetly.
Grandmother, Lila heard. Grellie would know. Surely she’d know. Then the girl replaced the black sheet over the curtain and there was nothing.
Absolutely nothing. Just blackness. The chair, the bed, the door, the picture, the bedside lockers. It was all gone. It was silent too, all she could hear was her own breathing. And it was cold.
Ellie was at her wits’ end. She had searched everywhere, had felt all along the walls and floors of her bedroom in case Lila had collapsed. She was about to ring Jeremy when she had a thought. A desperate thought. She wouldn’t have.
God Almighty, please let her not have.
She felt her way along to the spare bedroom.
It was a long time since she had even passed through that door. A lifetime since she had entered it. She was a different woman then. Having inherited the house from her husband’s mother, she had been exploring the place. They had just arrived, they were excited. On their first day in their first house together, they split up and looked at different rooms. She had chosen this one. He had left her after that. Her and her baby daughter. Couldn’t deal with her after the incident. A nervous breakdown they’d called it. Self-harming.
She stood outside the door, her hand trembling as she reached out to touch the doorknob. She felt nauseous. Her knees trembled so badly she could barely stand.
Then she heard the voice.
‘I’m coming Grandmother!’
And she knew. She knew straight away. She felt sick.
The door opened.
A presence stood there, stood there watching her for a spell while she backed away and reached out for something to hold on to. To keep her up. A cold blast of air hit her. Then finally.
Ellie, ever the survivor, pulled herself together. ‘Lila, my dear,’ she panted.
‘My heart pills. Get me my heart pills.’
‘What’s wrong? Where are they? I’ve forgotten.’
‘Remember what the doctor said,’ Ellie continued.
‘I know, I know you have to be careful. Where are they?’
There was nothing wrong with her heart.
She moved to Ellie’s bedroom, a good guess that it was her room. She would have heard her feet move from the bedroom rug to the tiled bathroom floor but there was no sound. She was still in the bedroom.
‘I can’t find them.’
‘Are you in the bathroom?’
Ellie’s test was complete, the girl wanted Ellie dead, she knew that. Well, she didn’t give up over fifty years ago, she wasn’t about to start now.
She quickly made her way downstairs.
‘Where are you going?’ Lila asked, appearing at the stairs.
Panicking but trying to hide it Ellie reached the front door. She opened it knowing the car was at the end of the garden outside the gate.
‘The driver’s here, we have to go.’
‘Oh,’ her voice relaxed. ‘Time to get married!’
‘You go-ahead to the car, I just want to make a phone call,’ Ellie said easily.
‘Who are you calling?’ Lila was very quickly beside her. That cold air came with her.
‘Jeremy. I just want to tell him we’re leaving.’
‘I’ll come with you.’
She knew. She knew Ellie knew.
‘Jeremy,’ Ellie said, without excitement now, ‘we’re leaving the house now.’
‘Is everything okay?’ he asked, worried.
‘You sound … you just sound down.’
Ellie left a silence. She wanted him to think there was something wrong.
She wanted him to realize Lila wasn’t standing beside him in the church.
‘Don’t worry, you’ll be okay. We’ll take care of you today. Okay?’
Ellie swallowed hard. ‘I’ll see you soon.’
They didn’t speak in the car. They didn’t speak when they got out of the car. Then, just as they arrived at the church and the doors were pulled open, the girl whispered in Ellie’s ear, ‘Imagine, poor Lila stuck in that black nothingness all on her own. And look at us here.’
The wedding march started up.
Ellie whispered back, ‘Yes, but she won’t be there for long, so why don’t you enjoy your moment and walk up the aisle alone.’
Ellie felt the girl’s surprise. She had probably thought Ellie would go along with it but she wouldn’t, she never would. Ellie stepped aside, had no idea where she was but felt the girl’s presence disappear and knew she had taken the steps and was walking up the aisle.
Ellie felt someone guide her to a seat where she sat, her stomach sick, while she listened to the sermon. Jeremy with such emotion in his voice, her, the girl, with icy coldness in hers.
After the ceremony, Jeremy came to Ellie.
‘Ellie, are you okay? Lila said you didn’t feel well, that you couldn’t walk her up the aisle.’
Ellie grabbed him by the arm, moved close to his ear, felt her nails dig into his arm as she tried to hammer the message home. ‘Jeremy listen to me, I know you think I am crazy-‘
‘Of course, I don’t think that,’ Jeremy interrupted.
‘Listen.’ She dug her nails in harder. ‘Fifty-two years ago, I looked in the mirror …’ and she told him the story. When she had finished, she heard silence. ‘Test her Jeremy. Just test her, that’s all I’ll say. Do it for me.’
‘Okay, okay, Ellie.’
He didn’t believe her, she knew that he didn’t and she’d known that he wouldn’t, but the seed had been planted and no matter how many years he would spend with this girl, at least he would always have Ellie’s explanation in his head. Maybe someday he would believe it.
It was as though Lila had been standing in the middle of a football stadium without realizing it because all of a sudden pitch-blackness changed to bright light and she had to adjust her eyes. She was surrounded by people, lots of people she knew and loved. She smiled at them all but her face wouldn’t move. They had cameras in their hands, were smiling at her with fondness but they weren’t looking at her, they were looking at another Lila, the girl, her reflection who was standing in the middle of the dance floor in Jeremy’s arms.
Around her in the darkened space to which she was confined, everything she had spent the past few months organizing was reflected. The white roses on the tables were beautiful, the chairs were decorated with black bows.
A black-and-white theme, all to disguise the black fabric that she had had specially made to cover the mirrors. But for some reason, they were down on the floor.
And the girl was standing in the center of the black-and-white dance floor, in Lila’s dress, with her arms wrapped around Lila’s boyfriend - husband now.
And he was looking slightly bewildered. And Ellie … poor Ellie was standing among the crowd looking lost.
‘What are you doing, Lila?’ Jeremy asked through gritted teeth.
‘Let’s not fight now, everybody’s staring.’ The girl smiled back.
‘Just tell me, why have you taken the drapes down?’
‘What’s the point in booking the ballroom if we cover up all these beautiful mirrors. I want to see myself.’
‘It’s for Ellie, not for you, you know that.’
Then she laughed. ‘Oh, of course, I know who you mean. How could I forget Grellie.’ She laughed. ‘Grellie, Grellie, Grellie, Ellie. Look, she’ll get over it. She’s acting so oddly today. I think we should take her to the doctor.
She’s rambling on about some bizarre things. She might have mentioned something to you.’
‘About a mirror? Anything like that?’
Jeremy studied her. Felt her cold. Knew something wasn’t right. ‘I love you, monkey.’
The girl laughed, was confused for a moment, then remembered earlier that morning when Lila had looked in the car mirror and said, ‘I love you too, hippo.’
Jeremy smiled. Looking relieved.
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This is an already published story by Cecelia Ahern. I made some grammar changes and did some editing in the story this is a cropped scene from the book.