Illusions: part three — condensed


Ashley Tanner

Chapter 1
Elijah began to feel sicker than he already did. He was now putting Gemma in danger, again. He had to make sure that Wolfgang was unaware of her presence.
Wolfgang continued his shouting but Elijah had tuned him out. Even if they really knew anything, and they didn’t, he wouldn’t tell him.
James looked like he was on the brink of passing out, his breathing was labored and his head was hanging low.
Wolfgang knew that James had never liked him, and he reciprocated those feelings. He had always felt that Elijah was his protege, and was hoping to find out that this was all a miscommunication. That James had put him up to it, but Elijah had yet to say a word to him, even after being beaten senseless for hours.
“If you don’t start talking, I am going to half to resort to more violent means of making you talk,” he said, a dark look in his eyes.
James lifted his head, using every ounce of strength he had left.
“We won’t tell you anything,” he spat at Wolfgang.
“So he can talk? Well now you leave me no choice.”
He turned around and waved to his henchmen. They left, but came back quickly with a large box. Wolfgang opened it and looked at it’s contents.
“This is what I like to call my box of fun,” he grinned and reached inside the box and picked up something.
Elijah watched him intently, unsure of what he thought Wolfgang was capable of.
Wolfgang pulled out a black handgun. He took out the magazine, examined the bullets and popped it back in. Then, he looked at James.
“So, now that we’ve established the former methods aren’t enough to make you talk, maybe this one is. If you give me the answers I want, I will not harm you,” he said discouragingly. “But, if you don’t cooperate, each time you displease me, I will aim closer to your heart.”
James barely flinched, but Elijah was looking for a way out.
“Do you know why I am so angry? Do you understand what position you have put me in, hmm?”
As he spoke, he walked closer to James and put his hand on his cheek, forcing him to make eye contact.
“Your need to put your nose places where it does not belong has put my job at risk, and your blood on my hands. I prefer to let my men handle it,” he nodded towards his henchmen, who both had an equal stature and dark hair. The one on the right had a hefty mustache, and the one on the left had a sharp jawbone.
“All I have wanted to do is make a life for myself. It has never been my concern what SAINT does with the people, as long as I got paid,” as he spoke, he paced around the room.
You both agreed to work for me. You could have quit the second you learned of our practice. You could have turned me in. But no, you agreed to be my faithful servant,” his voice progressively got louder.
“And then you met Gemma,” he pointed his gun at Elijah. “You promised me that she meant nothing to you, that she was just some random girl you knew in high school.”
Wolfgang turned his back to Elijah, so he took the opportunity to glance at Gemma, but she wasn’t there.
“I was so assured that you would be able to bring Gemma in, she would have been the catch of my career. But your heart got in the way. All of the feelings you had for her in high school came back. You fell in love with her. How despicable. And for that —”
Wolfgang pointed the gun at Elijah, but before he could pull the trigger something flew out from behind him, knocking the gun out of his hand. It skittered across the floor, landing just out of reach of Irene and another woman who had appeared from behind the stack of wooden crates that had hidden Gemma from sight.
He watched in horror as Gemma struggled with Wolfgang, wincing at the sickening sound of a punch connecting — he couldn’t tell who’d thrown it. Suddenly, one of the two SAINTs men ran forward, and Elijah screamed at Gemma to duck. She dodged him just in time, tripping with her foot so that he fell face first onto the concrete.
Another scuffle drew Elijah’s attention back to Irene. She and the other woman were fighting with the other SAINTs man, attempting to wrestle the gun from his hands. Suddenly, a shot rang out in the air, followed by two more. With the last shot, a sharp pain ripped through Elijah’s right arm.
“Get down on the ground!”
The two police officers ran inside, weapons drawn and pointed at the man from SAINTs and at Wolfgang. The two of them slowly sunk to their needs and raised their hands in defeat, freeing the girls to run and help the boys.
Ava followed behind, with one dark-haired female police officer. She ran toward the girls.
“Are you alright? Did they hurt you?,” she said as she neared them.
“We are fine, but Elijah was shot,” Gemma said as she ran to him, Ava following behind her. Irene went to release James, who was already being tended to by another police officer, her hair tied back in a long, dark ponytail.
In all the excitement, Elijah was barely aware of Gemma and the EMTs suddenly surrounding him. His mind was numb and fuzzy, and he couldn’t help but squint at the bright light that suddenly filled the warehouse. All he saw were the police that were escorting Wolfgang and his henchmen out, their hands cuffed behind their backs.
story by Ashley Tanner
Chapter 2
Gemma felt numb. She was barely able to process the sirens whirring in the background, their flashing lights casting a faint blue tint on the scene in front of her. All she could think about was the sight of the warehouse now barricaded with yellow police tape, the sound of the gun going off, the sluggish way her feet had seemed to move as she ran toward Elijah.
She hugged the blanket on her shoulders a little tighter and stared down at her feet, too overwhelmed by the sea of people around her to look up at everything else. She felt like she had been trying to walk among a different crowd for so long, keeping her gift a secret from everyone she met and trying to be as normal as she used to be. Now, her secret was out, at least to a few people, and suddenly she felt like the world would swallow her up for her gift and the chaos it had left in its wake.
“Are you doing alright, Miss?” Gemma turned to see one of the younger EMTs standing there, a concerned look spread across her face. She was tall and towered above Jenna, her long hair tied back in a professional ponytail.
Sporty. Dreamy. Hushed.
Gemma tried to answer, but couldn’t seem to find any words that truly fit what she was feeling. Instead, she simply gave a small smile and nodded, hoping she seemed convincing enough. She did, for the most part, and the girl returned Gemma’s questionable grin with a much peppier one of her own.
“That’s good. I wanted to let you know, the two men you guys saved are going to be just fine. We’re bandaging most of their wounds up now — the hospital is more of a precaution than anything.”
“Can I see him?” she asked in a rush, accidentally cutting the girl off. “Elijah, I mean. He’s —“
The girl nodded. “It’s okay, I know who you’re talking about. I actually kind of figured you’d ask about him.” At this, Gemma felt her cheeks redden slightly, and she was thankful for the red and blue lights around her to hide it from the girl. “Between you and me, I’d say you have about three or four more minutes before those police officers over there finish talking to your friend.” She glanced over at the two officers, different from the ones from earlier. The two had matching ponytails, one pulling back thin brown, wavy hair; the other deep brunette hair that was long and shiny. “Coincidentally,” the EMT said, pulling Gemma’s attention back to her, “it’s most definitely going to take me just as long to put away my things and get situated before I can get started driving them back.”
Forgetting about the Label for a moment, Gemma’s eyes flew to the EMT’s, trying to determine if she was serious. The girl simply smiled and pointed at one of the ambulances across the way. “Oh my — thank you! Thank you so much!” Not waiting for a reply, Gemma ran forward, weaving carelessly around the various people that had flooded the scene in the past few minutes. She ran straight toward the ambulance that held Elijah, feeling tears well in her eyes at the sight of him.
“Gemma?” Despite being in a stretcher, Elijah struggled to sit up, his eyes squinting at the sight of her running toward him. “Gemma!”
“Elijah!“ At that moment, she reached the stretcher where Elijah lay, crashing into him in a fierce hug.
“Ah, ow — oh, Gemma.” As the shock from her sudden embrace wore off, Elijah returned Gemma’s hug just as tightly, though treating his right arm gingerly. She glanced down to see a sizable bandage, tinted a slight red underneath.
“Oh my goodness, are you okay?” Her head fell into his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, I put you through this, this all happened because of me —“
“No, no, no. Shush, Gemma, it’s okay. This wasn’t your fault. If I hadn’t — if I wasn’t so focused on myself, instead of the person I should’ve been focused on….” He grimaced. “I’m so sorry, Gemma. I caused all of this. Please forgive me?” He looked up at her, his blue eyes shining with what looked like tears.
Deceitful. Insubordinate. Devoted.
Gemma had always thought Elijah’s false Label was Devoted. How could he be truly devoted if he had been willing to lie to her all this time? But for the first time, she realized he’d never lied — not about what truly mattered. He’d always loved her, since the moment they’d first met in that coffee shop.
Elijah had never been Deceitful; his eyes had told the truth. She had just been too scared to look. As she looked now, she saw nothing but his devotion to her, and the lengths he was willing to go to protect her.
Looking back into his eyes, she simply said two words. “Of course.”
story by Nicole Schroeder
Chapter 3
Elijah took a deep breath as he began packing up his office. Although he had been pardoned from all legal actions, he still felt guilty. Not only for hurting Gemma, but for all of the other people he helped the SAINTs take in. He also felt gratitude from being pardoned — even if he had been in the wrong at one point. He’d been given a second chance, and for that he was especially thankful.
Elijah winced in pain as he picked up some personal files and placed them in a box. His arm was still healing — it would take some time before it was back to normal. It would take some time before anything was back to normal, really.
He surveyed the room. It was filled with his co-workers packing up. Most of them were very confused as to why they had been let go so suddenly. Elijah tried to keep his head down, wanting to avoid answering any questions. But his bruised face made it hard to avoid the attention.
He was almost finished packing when he heard someone approaching his desk. He reluctantly looked up. To his surprise, it was Ava.
“Hey!” He went to shake her hand with his right arm, winced, and retracted his hand.
“Er — sorry about that, I forget sometimes that it’s in no shape to move,” he laughed awkwardly.
“That’s quite alright. I just wanted to pop by and see how you were doing,” she smiled.
“Well, I am recovering well. I am still very sore, and bruised as you can see, but I could be much worse.”
“Well I am glad so see you’re doing alright. And Gemma?”
“She has been worried sick, but as the days go on, she is calming down. James is struggling a bit, though. He is, understandably, having trouble sleeping and refuses to talk about it. He’s been crashing at my place for the past few days.”
“Well, I am glad to hear Gemma is doing alright. I hope James will begin to improve.”
“Yes, me too.” They stood in awkward silence for a few moments.
“Um — I also had another reason for stopping by. I found an article written about Wolfgang, the SAINTs and a small part about you. I thought you might like to read it,” she handed it to him, nodded and then walked away.
“Thanks,” he called out to her as she walked away. Ava nodded.
Elijah slowly opened the paper, not knowing what to expect. The article was written by Derek Ratermann in the Jonas Gazette on April 4. And it read as follows:
Local police uncover government operation after warehouse attack
Theo Wolf, a lawyer at Earnest & Wolf Law Firm, was arrested late last night. He was charged with kidnapping and assault. While further investigation may lead to more charges, law enforcement says he may have had relation to a previously unknown government operation, Specialized Agency for the Intelligent and Neurologically Talented (SAINT).
“We are still trying to piece together the events of last night,” police chief Ramirez said. “Each clue we find only broadens our spectrum of evidence to go through. It may take a while before we have answers.”
Wolf, also know as Wolfgang, has been working with SAINT for multiple years, though it is still unclear how long he has shared relation to the group. SAINT is currently under investigation as well.
A tip was sent in late last night leading to an abandoned warehouse, where Wolf and two of his associates were assaulting Elijah Beckett and James Concannon. Police were called to the scene after multiple shots were fired. The two men were later taken to the hospital for their injuries — Beckett in serious and Concannon in critical condition..
“It was a very peculiar situation,” Ramirez said. “My officers have rarely encountered a hostage situation as threatening as this one. Three young women had already done a large portion of our job in handling the three assailants.”
Investigators are continuing to search for answers about SAINT and Wolf’s history with the group. If you have any tips, please call the tip hotline 404-123-6549.
Elijah scanned through the article one more time, still in disbelief that it had actually happened. He threw the paper in the nearest recycle bin, picked up his box and walked out of the firm for the last time.
story by Ashley Tanner
Chapter 4
A week later, Gemma Abbott and Irene Wharton stood side by side in front of their shared dresser, nitpicking their makeup and hair in between fits of giggles. To be perfectly honest, Gemma didn’t even know what they were laughing at anymore. She was fairly certain it had started out with an old picture they had found of their high school journalism staff during their senior year, but now it was too difficult to even catch their breath to try and share the stories they had thought of after seeing the photo.
“Do you remember,” Irene started, “that time when ….” But she was laughing too hard at that point to get an answer out, almost squeaking as she tried to speak.
“I can honestly say I don’t remember that time,” Gemma laughed, fixing the pin in her hair for the third time after bumping it out of place with her hand with the previous two attempts. She handed a still giggling Irene her purse, and sighed happily, picking up her own wallet from the bed behind her.
Just in time, a knock sounded at the door — one that was all too familiar to the two girls. The two smiled at each other and a knowing look passed between them before Gemma went to open the door. Elijah and James stood outside, the dim light in the hall making their suits look even more sharp alongside the girl’s evening dresses.
“Aren’t you two giggly tonight,” James remarked, taking note of their flushed cheeks and breathless grins. “What’s so funny?”
“The spatula!” Irene finally blurted out, referencing the random cooking utensil that had held a place in the journalism room for an entire year during their time in high school. Gemma shook her head and laughed, watching Elijah close his eyes for a moment.
“Oh, I remember the spatula. Dear Jonathan,” he said, bowing his head as if in remembrance. The girls grinned, and James chuckled.
“Well, nostalgic kitchenware aside, you guys ready to go?” James glanced around the room and they nodded, grabbing their keys and following the guys out to their car. Gemma lagged a little behind, but more out of realization than anything. For the first time in a long time, she had friends and a place to call home. She didn’t have secrets, but she didn’t need to anymore. She loved someone, and he loved her back.
For the first time in a long time, she felt happy.
story by Nicole Schroeder
“After you,” Elijah said with a nod as he held open the door for Gemma.
The young, pretty brown-haired maitre’d took them to their seats at Pacifica. They sat in silence for a while, looking over the menu. After Elijah had decided to get the salmon, he set down his menu, and looked around at his friends. They had survived so much in the past few months. Gemma had somehow found a way to forgive him, James’ recovery was coming along and Irene was beginning to trust him again.
Wolfgang had been arrested, as well as everyone who worked  at SAINTs. A follow up was never released, Elijah assumed because the police probably didn’t believe nor understand their findings.
James and Elijah both found new jobs, the reason for their celebration tonight. Life was getting back to normal.
Elijah flagged down their waiter and requested a bottle of champagne.
A few minutes later, their waiter had come back with the champagne and four flutes. The waiter popped the cork, and cheers were heard all around. He began to pour the remaining champagne when Elijah stopped him.
“I got it, thank you for bringing it out.” The waiter nodded.
“I will be back in a few minutes to take your orders,” and he left.
“Against all odds, we are sitting here, together,” he continued as he poured. “We have been given the opportunity to start over with our lives, to have a new beginning. We survived.” He raised his glass, and clinks were heard all around.
Elijah looked over at Gemma, who was already looking at him. Their eyes met, and he had flashbacks to the first time he had ever seen her, all those years ago in high school. She looked younger, but still beautiful. Her hair shielded her face, but every so often when she would look up you could catch the light in her eyes.  She may have been quiet and reserved, but there was no doubt about her passion for journalism. She sat in the corner of the room, by herself, wrapped up in her own thoughts on their first day of newspaper. He couldn’t take his eyes off her then, and he certainty couldn’t now. Gemma blushed and looked down, her hair once again shielding her face.
Even though his job had been to follow her and gain her trust, he knew from the second it started that this case would be different. He had known that he was going to fall for her, because it had already happened eight years ago. Now, he wouldn’t change it for the world.
story by Ashley Tanner

End of Illusions.
Read part one, here. Read part two, here.