Illusions: A chance encounter


photo by Alex Schroeder

Nicole Schroeder

Illusions is a novella written by Nicole Schroeder and Ashley Tanner, about a girl named Gemma who has the ability to see people’s true character at a single glance. Each post in the following blog series is one chapter of Illusions. 
“Good morning! What can we get started for you?” The cheery cashier smiled expectantly, sounding all too happy to be filling people’s coffee orders at 7:30 in the morning. Gemma pretended to study the menu behind her as she ordered, carefully avoiding meeting the girl’s gaze as she spoke.
“A medium mocha, please.”
“Alright,” she said, the register beeping as she punched the order in on the screen. “That will be… $3.47.”
Gemma nodded, glancing away from the menu to fish a crumpled five from her wallet. Holding it out, the girl took it without looking up, still engrossed in punching the buttons of the register. Gemma watched expectantly as the girl slid the bill into the drawer of the register and figured up her change.
“And here you go,” she finally said, tearing the receipt from the printer and handing it over along with her change. She placed the coins in her hand and flashed a pearly smile, her sparkly eyes meeting Gemma’s for a moment. Yet that moment was all it took.
Empathetic. Deceitful. Dedicated.
In a flash, the words popped into Gemma’s head, defining the girl in front of her — well, at least two of the words did. One was wrong, and she could only guess it was Deceitful. One of them was always wrong, though for the life of her Gemma could never figure out why, or how to tell which one it was.
Well, anyway, this girl seemed to be a fairly genuine person, at least from her first impression. Blinking a few extra times to clear the Labels from her head, Gemma smiled feebly as the cashier assured her the coffee would be out shortly.
Wandering down the counter to where finished drinks were being delivered, Gemma was careful to keep her gaze down and away from other people. Even so, she still managed to catch the eye of a few innocent patrons who sat across the café. An older man’s gaze, his white hair growing in wisps on his sun-spotted forehead, met her eyes critically as she passed, probably wondering why her face had turned downward into an anxious frown.
Temperamental. Keen. Talented.
Another customer sitting in a back booth, her short curly hair pinned away from her face while she scrolled through her phone, smiled warmly at Gemma as she passed. Out of the corner of her eye, Gemma saw the girl studying her.
Timid. Creative. Perceptive.
Quickly, she cast her eyes to the floor, suddenly absorbed in the gaudy orange tiles that overlaid the bistro. If she hadn’t stayed up so late last night and needed the extra caffeine before work….
This was one of the reasons she hated going out. People were everywhere, their Labels seemingly impossible to avoid. Since high school, no matter how she worked to avoid it, she still saw them with every passing glance, every polite conversation that inevitably made her face the person talking out of fear of seeming rude.
She didn’t quite know how to describe it, exactly, except that it was as if a flash of color filled her vision for a split second and then faded as quickly as it had appeared. What she was left with were the three words that would echo in her mind, bouncing around in her brain every time she saw the person again. After a while, of course, the Labels would get easier to ignore, especially if it was someone she knew well like her mother or Irene. But even then, sometimes the colors would shimmer from their eyes again, a new Label forming as she got to know them better.
After a few more minutes of nervously studying the floor, Gemma heard her drink called out from the barista behind the counter. She headed up to the counter to take the warm cup, nodding her thanks as the girl looked up from filling another order.
Modest. Impatient. Unconventional.
With a sigh, Gemma turned back toward the door, taking a sip of the coffee and wincing slightly as it scalded her tongue. Clutching the cup in her hands, she headed back toward the door, casting her eyes back toward the ground as she headed out of the store. As she reached for the door, however, a voice stopped her in her tracks.
“Gemma Abbott?”
She paused, a smile spreading across her lips. That was one voice she recognized, though she hadn’t heard it in a long time. She braced herself for the Label she knew was to come before turning around to face Elijah, his eyes sparkling at her just like they had in their high school’s journalism room nearly six years ago.
by Nicole Schroeder
Check back in a week for the next installment of “Illusions.”