Illusions: coming clean


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.[vc_empty_space]Gemma’s heels clicked deliberately against the concrete, echoing in the night around her. She clutched her arms around her chest as she walked, both in an effort to block out the cold and to try and suppress her uneasiness. Still, this was a part of town she wasn’t used to visiting, especially not at this late hour. That, and this was the first time she would be facing him since that night.
She was finally going to get answers; of that she was certain. But the real question persisted at the back of her mind: did she really want them?
She wasn’t so sure, but as two figures came into view sitting on the steps of the Bookmark’d bookstore down the road, she realized it was too late to turn back either way. Mustering her courage and determination, she took the final few steps to the store, coming to stand in front of Elijah and his friend as she watched them scramble to their feet.
“Gemma,” Elijah said, his eyes meeting hers for a second. She tried to turn away in time, taking interest in the brickwork of the old building she stood next to, but she still wasn’t quick enough.
Deceitful. Insubordinate. Devoted.
The words flashed in her mind, slicing like paper cuts against her memories of the New Year’s Eve party. She sucked in a breath, and she saw Elijah reach out to comfort her from her periphery, only to draw his hand back hesitantly at second thought.
“I just want my journal. You had no right —“
“He didn’t take it, Gemma.” She looked up at the other man, having forgotten that he was there. She took the moment of silence among them to search his eyes, reading his Label without difficulty despite the nighttime haze that concealed most of his other features.
Eager. Intuitive. Cautious.
“Who might you be?” she practically spat the words, and she thought she saw Elijah cringe at her tone. She didn’t care … did she?
“I’m James. One of Elijah’s coworkers.”
“Gemma, this wasn’t me, I swear. I was taken off the case pretty much as soon as you left the party.”
“But that’s all it was to you, wasn’t it?” Her voice cracked and a lump formed in her throat. “I was a case. I was a freak of nature to be studied, dissected like a frog.”
Elijah’s face grew red. “I cared for you, Gemma. You know I did!” He paused, letting out a breath and softening a little. “Look, I have to tell you something, but I need you to understand something first. None of this,” he said, gesturing widely, “was meant to hurt you. At first, it was just another assignment, but then we started talking more and I got to know you better. I remembered how kind and funny you were, how smart …. None of it was fake, Gemma. I really do love you.”
She sighed, fighting back stray tears in her eyes. “Until I know what’s really going on, Elijah, I don’t think I can trust you.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “What you have to understand is that Wolfgang — Theo, as you know him — is very persuasive. He’s, well …”
“Powerful,” James finished. Elijah nodded.
“Exactly. So when he put me on your case, I couldn’t exactly say no.”
“But why are you even with him in the first place?” Gemma said, disgust lacing into her voice. “How could you work for him?”
“Well, it didn’t exactly start out like that,” Elijah said, and sighed. “See, I first met Wolfgang after one of my classes at Harvard. He was waiting one day outside the lecture hall, and asked if I had time to talk about an internship opportunity at his law firm. He asked me if I had a way to pay for Harvard, and of course I didn’t. My parents came from nothing, and barely rose above that. I had some scholarship money, but only enough to keep me afloat for the first year or so. The rest I had planned to pay for with student loans. Of course I said yes.
“At first it was the basic ‘making coffee, printing copies’ sort of deal. Then he began to take me under his wing; I was his protege. The coffee trips started turning into research for clients. Wolfgang would me to get dirt on his client’s enemies, and it began to get a little risky.
“I don’t remember how long it took, but I started to figure out that none of the information really made sense in any of his cases. In fact, I soon realized, he didn’t really have any clients; not really. He had an occasional one or two, very minor cases, but those were just to keep up the facade.
“After a while, I began to inspect the other lawyers in the office, to find out if they had any real clients. They were all real lawyers, too, but I noticed a common theme: they all had less than stellar track records in terms of the number of cases they handled, and they all rarely lost a case. That, and they were always busy.
“Anyway, after a few months of snooping around and trying to figure out what was going on, I decided the best way to be sure was to just ask him. He seemed to trust me enough, so hopefully he’d be willing to give me answers, right?
“Needless to say, it was the scariest thing I had ever done. I marched into his office and slammed all of the research I had found on everyone in the office onto his desk. He didn’t even look at it, he just started laughing.
“It had been a test the whole time. The only way to get ’in’ was to figure out the truth, and he’d been waiting for me this whole time to do just that. I’d even waited longer than the others — he’d been beginning to question if he’d chosen the right person to recruit.
“I was so confused, and even with what he told me about the job it still didn’t make any sense. It was beginning to feel like a James Bond movie, except I was playing the part of one of the clueless strangers he shoved out of the way and not anyone with an inside look at the operation.
“Well, he asked me to sit down and began to explain to me the ‘business.’ It was an elaborate scheme, one that was so meticulous and cunning, it actually made sense. It wasn’t a law firm — it was a government program, designed to recruit ‘exceptionally gifted and talented characters’ who they deemed could be of use to them. He was the one in charge of finding them.
“You see, when he — Wolfgang, not Theo — was in college, he’d met this classmate of his. The man had had a strange perceptiveness, and was always very introverted. For the most part, he stuck to his camera and his work, and that was that. Out of courtesy, though, Wolfgang had started trying to get to know the guy, thinking he was just shy or too focused on school for his own good. But he soon came to realize the man wasn’t just perceptive. He could see things others couldn’t, about the future, about themselves. He found it hard to believe, obviously, but the more time he spent with the guy, the more unavoidable the truth became.
“The man was a clairvoyant, Gemma. Just like you.”[vc_empty_space]Do you think Gemma should trust Elijah? Leave a comment below. 
To read all of Illusions part one, click here.[vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”10″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1455343271579-d980fd2d-410a-9″ taxonomies=”12779″]