Illusions: dinner and a date


photo by Alex Schroeder

Ashley Tanner

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. 
To view previous chapters, select on of the tabs below. 
[vc_tta_tabs active_section=”1″][vc_tta_section title=”Chapter 4″ tab_id=”1444715591702-226c8c3d-f9ae”]Elijah could feel his heart beating out of his chest as he awaited the arrival of Gemma. All he could think about was ‘what am I gonna say to her?’ and ‘was this a good idea?’ But all of his nerves went away when he saw her walk through the door of the little French cafe; her presence brought an immediate smile to his face. She was wearing a maroon knit hat, dark skinny jeans and a large loose sweater. Her dark brown hair was curled perfectly and bounced with every step she took.
“Hey!” Gemma said as she sat down across from Elijah. “Sorry I’m late, New Perspectives kept me later than I had anticipated.”
Elijah was taken back by what she just said.
“You work for New Perspectives?”
Gemma looked flushed, she was clearly embarrassed by his question.
New Perspectives was a modern fiction and media outlet. It provided humorous stories, as well as emotionally intense stories. It was quite popular and has locations all around the world. Working for NP was a dream that most writers never got to achieve.
“Yeah…I got an internship in college and they recently added me on as a graphic designer. I work a lot with the funnier posts and social media humor. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I’d still like to work on the actual stories at some point.”
It was kind of hard for Elijah to hear that Gemma had an amazing job fresh out of college and he is still the errand boy.
“That is amazing! Have you gotten the chance to meet anyone famous yet?”
“No not really, I am still at the bottom of the totem poll. I am ranked only slightly above an intern. But my boss has been raving about me to the CEO, so hopefully I will get to work with the faces of NP or at least meet some celebrities.”
As soon as she had finished her sentence, their waitress stopped by.
“Hi! My name is Meg, I will be your waitress today. What can I start you guys off with?”
As soon as Meg had finished talking, Gemma let out a giggle. Meg’s eyebrows furrowed with confusion, but quickly bounced back.
“I will have a pinot noir,” Elijah said.
Gemma looked indecisive as she examined the wine menu.
“I guess I will have a riesling.”
“Okay, I will be back with your drinks shortly!” She then trotted away to the next table.
“So, you’re a white wine kinda gal?” Elijah said flashing his perfect smile.
“Haha, yeah, I guess I am.”
Silence fell over the table as they both looked over the menu trying to decide what to eat.
Meg came back and took their orders, but the silence remained for a few more minutes.
Elijah broke the silence.
“So, how is Irene doing?”
Gemma has a stunned look on her face.
“Uhh…how do you know I’m still talk to Irene?”
Elijah froze. What exactly was he supposed to say now?
“Oh, umm. Well I just remember you were pretty close. And I assumed you guys are still friends.” Elijah’s voice waivered, but he hoped Gemma hadn’t noticed.
Gemma thought about it for a moment.
“Well, she’s doing great. We are roommates actually.”
“That’s awesome! I’m not friends with anyone I went to highschool with. You are the first person I have reconnected with in the past couple years. The further away from graduation it got, the harder it was to talk to my football buddies who were playing at colleges all around the country.”
Gemma had a sad look in her eyes.
“Irene and I have been best friends for as long as I can remember, and I hope she will remain my best friend till we’re old and in the nursing home,” Gemma giggled.
Just as she had finished talking, Meg was bringing them their food. Both Elijah and Gemma cleared a space in front of them for their plates.
They ate in silence for a while until Gemma, uncharacteristically, broke the silence.
“You know, this is like my first real date,” she said slightly embarrassed.
Elijah looked shocked.
“No way,” Gemma nodded her head. “How? You’re beautiful, smart and adorably awkward.”
Gemma’s face reddened.
“I don’t know, I just have never caught the eye of anyone worth my time.” As soon as she had finished talking, she darted her eyes downward to her plate and began pushing food around with a fork.
Elijah laughed.
“Well I am honored to be your first date, and I hope to be your first second date too.” 
story by Ashley Tanner [/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Chapter 3″ tab_id=”1444715592251-3540a0dc-552e”]It was late that night when Gemma finally returned to her apartment, a soft smile still visible on her cheeks. Padding up the stairs to her room, she paused to rap softly on the door, hoping her roommate, Irene, was home like she’d said she would be. Just as Gemma was resolving to dig through her bag and attempt to find her keys, however, the door swung open.
“You’d better have a juicy story to tell me, Missy. Since when do you stay out on the town at all hours?”
Gemma rolled her eyes, shifting her backpack up farther onto her shoulder. “Fine, fine. Just be quieter, for goodness sake.” Irene grinned, stepping aside and letting her in.
She headed into their living room/kitchen, tossing her backpack on a nearby chair before heading to make some tea. Irene flipped the deadbolt on the door and headed over to the couch, flopping down and looking up expectantly at Gemma, who shared a naive look of her own.
Lively. Friendly. Introverted.
“Geez, you are so impatient,” she groaned, but a hint of a smile played across her lips. “Okay, do you remember Elijah Beckett? He was on the paper my sophomore year, so your … junior year, I guess.”
“Yeah, I remember him. He was on staff during my sophomore year, too.” Irene had been a writer for two years for their high school’s newspaper, working alongside both Gemma and Elijah. She wasn’t able to take the class her senior year because of sports, but nevertheless she and Gemma had kept in touch after graduation. “Don’t tell me you guys hooked up?” She wriggled her eyebrows, and Gemma sighed as she popped a mug of water into the microwave to heat.
“We did not hook-up. We just ran into each other this morning and got to talking is all.”
“Uh-huh.” Irene stared skeptically at her roommate for a moment. “And this ‘talking’ just so happened to last until 9:30 at night?”
“No,” she admitted, blushing a little. The microwave dinged, and she took her time taking out her mug and starting to steep her tea before answering. “He showed me the law firm where he works this morning, and then we ran into each other again on our way back home. We started talking again and lost track of time.”
At this, Irene squealed, hugging a nearby throw pillow close to her chest. “That’s actually adorable. What were you guys gushing to each other about now?”
“Okay, hang on a second,” Gemma said, moving to sit on the couch next to her. “First of all, there was no gushing. There was never any gushing, and there will never be any gushing.”
At this, Irene faked a cough. “You’re blushing,” she pointed out in between fits of hacking. Gemma’s hand drifted to her cheek, feeling the warmth beneath them.
“Whatever,” she said, waving her off. “Secondly, what do you mean ‘now’? As opposed to when, exactly?”
“C’mon,” Irene said. “Everyone on staff could tell you guys liked each other. Remember convention, and how you guys were always taking the same workshops?”
“That is so not true,” Gemma argued. “We did plenty of stuff separately. And anyways, you were always off with the EICs working on the news package. Who else was I supposed to hang with?”
Irene sighed. “I’ll give you that one. But you still didn’t answer my question.”
Gemma shrugged. “We didn’t talk about anything in particular, really. We talked about how college was for both of us and what we were doing now, if we were still doing anything with journalism and stuff like that. I don’t know, we just … talked.”
“Well, okay,” Irene said, nodding eagerly. “Are you guys going to talk anymore?”
This time, she noticed her cheeks growing warm, and she sipped at her tea to hide it from Irene. “Yeah. He invited me to have lunch with him tomorrow.”
Irene squealed again, though this time she muffled it with her pillow. “You have no idea how happy this makes me,” she said, a huge grin stretching across her face. “Please tell me you’re going to Simon’s?”
“No, we are not going to Simon’s, especially if you’re going to act like this the entire time,” Gemma said, smiling playfully. Simon’s Bar and Grill was the restaurant Irene worked at, and one that Gemma thoroughly tried to avoid. Too many people and, more importantly, too many Labels.
“Okay. Well, you’d better at least tell me everything tomorrow. I’m not kidding, pretend you have to interview someone for an infographic or something and sneak out of the office and call me.”
Gemma groaned. “Fine,” she said, trying to hide her own smile. As she lay in bed that night, however, her grin was much harder to hide. Even as she drifted off to sleep, she couldn’t stop smiling, instead falling asleep while feeling happier and more eager for the coming day than she had in a long time.
story by Nicole Schroeder
[/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Chapter 2″ tab_id=”1444715725644-b0e2dec3-3a73″]*bzz*
Elijah pulled out his phone with a sigh, knowing it was most likely his arrogant boss asking him to pick up his dry cleaning for him again. Before he unlocked his phone, he glanced through one of the shop windows as he passed. That was when he saw her.
Her long, thick auburn brown hair was unmistakable. It followed her movements effortlessly as she was glancing around at her surroundings waiting for her coffee. He noticed her shy smile hiding behind the wall of hair she had famously worn since high school.
Elijah’s phone buzzed again, bringing him back to reality.
‘Pick me up a medium with 2 shots of espresso and 3 creams. –Theo’
Elijah promptly opened the cafe door, excited for his opportunity to see Gemma.
“Gemma Abbott?” Elijah said, trying his best to hide his excitement.
She stood there for a moment, staring at him. The confused look in her eyes worried him. Did she not recognize him?
“Elijah Beckett?”
The last time he had seen her was in 2009 at his high school graduation. Gemma was a sophomore his senior year. Their lives didn’t intertwine much because he was a popular athlete and she was a silent genius except for one class: journalism.
“I haven’t seen you since you graduated,” Gemma said. “That was like six years ago, right?”
Elijah flashed his classic smile.
“Yeah, I can’t believe it’s been that long!”
Elijah began to walk towards the counter, Gemma followed.
“So what have you been up to since high school?” Gemma said intently.
Elijah paused for a moment after ordering Theo’s coffee to think about what he had done in the last six years. He attended Harvard for four years and went on to get his masters in preparation to become a lawyer. He began working at a lawfirm as a paralegal where he running errands for his hot-shot boss, the lawyer Theo Wolf.
“I went to Harvard to study pre law. Now I’m a paralegal at a law firm down the street,” he replied as the barista handed him the coffee cup. “What about you?”
She flashed a nervous smile. “Oh you know…I went to college and majored in graphic design. I work for New Perspectives—the magazine,” she clarified.
Elijah could sense she was seemed uncomfortable as they awkwardly stood in silence in the middle of the cafe.
“I work down the street a bit, would you like to come and see my office?” He was hoping to get to spend a little more time with her.
Her brows furrowed as she pondered her options.
“Uh, yeah. Sure.”
Elijah motioned towards to door, he stepped out first so he could hold the door open for her. The sun was bright compared to the dim lighting of the cafe. As his eyes began to adjust the light, he noticed how much more beautiful she looked out in the sun. A slight breeze picked up her hair and the sun glistened on her skin. She was wearing very little makeup, but she didn’t need any. She had sculpted cheekbones, a delicate nose and the soft dimples. Her lips were a natural shade of pink that fit her heart shaped face perfectly. She had matured immensely from the last time he had seen her six years ago.
They walked down the sidewalk in silence for a while. Gemma continued to look uncomfortable and he couldn’t figure out why. Almost as if she could read his thoughts, she looks at him and smiles weakly.
“So…do you enjoy being a paralegal?”
Elijah hated being a paralegal. It was the bottom of the justice food-chain. He was more of an errand boy than anything else.
“Oh. I run a lot of errands.” He lifted up the coffee cup to emphasize his point. “Well, I am just paying my dues I suppose.”
“What do you hope to do as a lawyer?” She seemed intrigued.
“I don’t know yet. I guess at this point I uphold the law, but I haven’t experienced enough to know where I want to go. Personally, it’s easier for me to think about the next goal, which for me is passing the Bar.”
She nodded her head acknowledgingly.
“I think it would be cool to be a lawyer. You essentially try to prove people wrong for a living. It’s like a puzzle for every case, trying to figure out whether or not your client is innocent or not. Even if they are guilty, you try and lessen their punishment. I guess that’s the hard part, defending someone you know has done something wrong, huh?”
Elijah thought about what she had said for a moment.
“I hope I never have to defend a man who claims to be innocent of a crime a horrid as murder, but is truly guilty. I guess it just all depends on what kind of law I decide to go into.”
As soon as he finished her sentence they had arrived to his office.
“This is where I work.”
Gemma had a stunned look on her face.
She walked to the door and he followed, a smirk spreading across his face.
story by Ashley Tanner[/vc_tta_section][vc_tta_section title=”Chapter 1″ tab_id=”1444716124726-478c0dff-d141″]“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.
story by Nicole Schroeder[/vc_tta_section][/vc_tta_tabs]