Gemma and Chase

I wrote this story episode by episode. It was so difficult to pick and choose the parts I would put in the story and the parts that didn’t belong. A ten-page limit just killed me.

A Synopsis of My Revisions

For my revision I chose my second story, originally titled, “You Don’t Know Her.” During the revision, however, I changed the title to “Tourist Traps.” I did this to play on the theme of perception versus reality. Both Chase and Gemma have certain perceptions of themselves and the other person; they do not see each other clearly. Tourist traps are usually set up to project a certain image to people that come and go. I tried to convey that, in a way, Gemma does just this. She portrays herself in different ways, to different people, but as Chase points out she keeps everyone at arms length. Her personality, the one that people see, is completely superficial. This is the same as the tourist trap. It doesn’t truly convey the personality of the town, just the image they want everyone to see. That and the story takes place in a beach town, where the main revenue is tourism. The town itself caters to a superficial persona.

During workshop, many people pointed out that I couldn’t just call my character broken. I had to show the audience that she was broken, unless I wanted her to sound phony. I knew specifically what kind of broken I wanted Gemma to be, but I wasn’t sure how to show the audience in a natural way. I added a new scene where Chase and Gemma are driving back to his place. On this ride Chase asks about her family, a sore subject for Gemma. When she was a kid her dad died of a heart attack and three years after that her older brother died in a car accident. Her mother drinks away her grief, and insists she has no one to talk to but Gemma. She has been telling her about her grief and her pain and her depression since she was ten years old. Gemma’s younger brother, Flynn, has handled the loss differently. A tightly controlled person, until he’s not, he is filled with rage and depression. When he gets angry and it happens often, he throws things, he’s basically incredibly destructive. Both her mom and brother have lost any will to deal with their grief in a healthy way. Gemma feels the need to take care of both of them. During the conversation in the car I have Gemma reveal the situation with her living family members and subtly hint at some sort of grief. I also have Chase confidently try to “fix” Gemma. Part of his character that I wanted to convey was that even he, the person closest to Gemma, cannot see through her veneer.

When Gemma and Chase are talking about his feelings for her I included a few lines about the loss of her brother and dad. Chase asks if her hesitation to be with him stems from their deaths. She tries to convey to him, in her own way, that losing them scarred her in a way that she doesn’t necessarily want to fix. I wanted to make it clear that Gemma has reasons to call herself broken, but she also likes the descriptor. It’s comfortable to her.

 

Ferris Wheel

Her eyes caught the Ferris wheel standing tall amongst the tourist shops.

Gemma wandered back over to the boardwalk her eyes glues to the run-down amusement park.

“Gem, what are you doing?”

“Does this place open up in the summer?’

“What? Yeah, it does. It’s noisy as hell too. Gemma stop. That sign says no trespassing.”

“Calm down. Do you really think I’m gonna scale a freaking fence?” She rested her hand on the long wooden planks surrounding the rides and games. “These things seem so sad when they’re not all lit up.”

“They’re just a bunch of metal and noise, Gemma. No need to mourn them.”

“Don’t you ever wonder about places like this though?” Her eyes were still fixated on the Ferris wheel. “It’s so quiet. People are only interested when the music plays and the lights flash and the metal moves. We’re only interested in the spectacle.”

Chase reached out and tugged at a stray piece of her hair. She turned her head to look at him. “Ready to go, weirdo?”

She didn’t smile like he expected her too. Gemma followed him away, but her eyes lingered on the cold metal rides.

“It’s just so different when it’s dark.”

 

Gunpowder Green

Her eyes caught the Ferris wheel standing tall amongst the tourist shops.

Gemma wandered back over to the boardwalk her eyes glues to the run-down amusement park.

“Gem, what are you doing?”

“Does this place open up in the summer?’

“What? Yeah, it does. It’s noisy as hell too. Gemma stop. That sign says no trespassing.”

“Calm down. Do you really think I’m gonna scale a freaking fence?” She rested her hand on the long wooden planks surrounding the rides and games. “These things seem so sad when they’re not all lit up.”

“They’re just a bunch of metal and noise, Gemma. No need to mourn them.”

“Don’t you ever wonder about places like this though?” Her eyes were still fixated on the Ferris wheel. “It’s so quiet. People are only interested when the music plays and the lights flash and the metal moves. We’re only interested in the spectacle.”

Chase reached out and tugged at a stray piece of her hair. She turned her head to look at him. “Ready to go, weirdo?”

She didn’t smile like he expected her too. Gemma followed him away, but her eyes lingered on the cold metal rides.

“It’s just so different when it’s dark.”

 

Gemma Runs Away

I quickly twisted my hair up. It was a sloppy imitation of a bun, but I just needed the penny-stained waves to stop falling into my face. I rubbed my palms against the pale skin of my cheeks, jaw, and forehead. I hoped the friction would bring some color to my freckled face or hide the bags under my eyes.

I unlocked the monstrous truck, catching sight of my reflection in the tinted windows. Ok, so friction doesn’t help. I climbed into to the driver’s seat and my feet groped for the pedals, but scraped at air. I laid my head on the steering wheel as I remembered that Chase drove my car last. My 5’4 frame wasn’t comfortable in my own car.

God damn it. It even smells like him. I jabbed the keys into the ignition and twisted violently. The car kicked to life and my favorite country station serenaded me. I exhaled and wished for my usual caffeine fix.

A sharp rap came from the passenger side. I screamed and clutched at the front of my oversized sweater. My gaze slid to the window and he slammed his palm against the glass. I rolled down the window and stared straight ahead.

“You’re running?” Chase said.

I looked down at my lap. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re a fucking coward.”

I listened to him retreat across the blacktop. The sound of the door slamming accompanied my drive away.

Corny

Gemma looped her arm around mine and tugged me toward the beach. Chase dragged his feet unwilling to get too near the icy wind racing across the sand.

“Gem, it’s cold. We can come back tomorrow. It probably won’t be that bad then.”

“Humor me.”

She let go of his arm and scrambled down the dune brushing past the sea grass. He grudgingly followed behind cursing the sand making its way into his shoes.

“Stop being so gloomy. You get to see this all the time.” She stood at the shoreline staring out at the horizon. Gemma’s body shivered.

“You’re freezing. Let’s go back to my place, get something to eat.”

“Just a little bit longer.”

            Crazy girl. Chase wandered along, picking his way through the shells and driftwood that had washed up.

He heard her voice above the crashing of the waves. “You know the ocean’s always the same on the surface.”

Chase looked down at the shell in his hand and got an idea. He began gathering his materials. He yelled back, “What do you mean?”

“No matter what happens, no matter what the world throws into it, or takes out of it, it just keeps pushing and pulling against the shore. It’s the same salty green liquid. You can’t even see what’s below the surface. I mean does anyone jump into the ocean and open their eyes under the water?”

“Yeah Gem, it’s called snorkeling.”

“Chase I’m trying to be profound here—” She turned toward him in frustration.

“Tada!” Chase threw his arms out to display his masterpiece. He had taken the shells he found along the beach and made a C and a G. With a stick he traced a heart around their letters.

“Well this is adorable.” Chase wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they examined his work. “I had no idea you were the next Van Gogh.”

He pulled her into his chest and muffled her laughter, “Ok smart-ass. You turned around before I was able to draw the ‘4eva’.”

She pushed away from him and grabbed the stick he had abandoned in the sand. He watched Gemma sketch out ‘4ever’, “There, now it belongs in the Louvre.” She plucked at the sleeve of his jacket. “Let’s get out of this wind. I’m starting to look like Rudolph.”

“Yes ma’am.”

They trudged up the beach and back to the car.

Compulsions

He grabbed the keys, heavy with the chains she kept on the loop, from her hand and ran to the driver’s seat. He jumped up and down with the nervous energy of a five year old.

“I’m driving.”

“My car.”

“Yeah but you’re a maniac and you don’t know where you’re going.”

She rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything. They got in the car and he pulled off the coastal highway. Chase could feel the silence stretching between them. Usually he never stopped talking-she would always listen-but today the only subject that came to mind started with I love you. He felt like he was going to just hurl the words all over her. He turned on the radio to quiet the words that had become a chant in his head. He groaned when he heard a cowboy crooning about his guns and trucks.

“Don’t they ever get tired of singing about inanimate objects?”

“Don’t start with me, Reggae mahn.” She said in a horrible Jamaican accent.

He laughed. It was only one CD, but she would never let him live The Sounds of the Island down. He listened to her sing along, amazed that she always knew every note and every line; she kept the beat with her feet on the dashboard. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her curling her hair around her finger, a habit she’d had as long as he had known her. The setting sun glinted off her red-brown hair as she mechanically twirled it, let it go, and reached up to grab another piece.

AA for Broken People

My name is Gemma Dunleavy and I am a mess.

It sounds like I’m introducing myself to an AA group. Is there an AA equivalent for people who are just plain terrible at life? I would go to that meeting, if only to see that there are people a little more broken than I am. Even my exterior says worn and ragged.

My long coppery-brown hair is almost always piled on top of my head or braided and lying against my side—if I’m feeling really lazy it’s hidden under one of my twenty plus baseball caps. I’m short, too short, which is why I’ll find any excuse to wear my cowboy boots. I would wear actual heels if I didn’t feel like a Barbie wearing them, or if I could walk in them. My blue eyes and freckles stand out sharply against my pale skin. It’s not so bad in the summer though. I’ve got my dad’s tanning gene, but my mom’s everything else. People tell me we could be twins.

I love tacky sweaters, but don’t tell my Grandma or I’ll never be able to take her clothes again. I’m obsessed with Ben & Jerry’s. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried every flavor they’ve come out with. Americone Dream is the flavor of the month; Steven Colbert is a genius on so many levels. My feet are always cold. Seriously, in 90 degree weather you’ll see me in fuzzy neon socks. I want to travel the world, but for now I’ll just settle for all 50 United States. Baby steps.

I hate bacon, but I will devour the Canadian variety. My best friend Chase says this makes me un-American, even though he’s tasted my apple pie. That’s the other thing about me. My best friend is in love with me and he thinks it’s this big secret. I spend a lot of time worrying he’s going to tell me someday. You see I’m incredibly scared everyone will leave me eventually. I usually leave before this happens.

 

Sweater Weather

Chase walked up and over the sandy hill and made his way to the shoreline. He had lived here his whole life—he’d practically been baptized in salt water—but, to be honest, he wasn’t a fan of the beach. The sand between his toes, the spray of the sea, the burning sun, it didn’t delight him the way it seemed to delight all the tourists who swarmed here every summer. Chase looked back at the weather-beaten boardwalk, the one Gemma made him take a million pictures of. Closed down shacks and tourist shops haunted the horizon. Chase let the wind seep into his sweater and bite at his skin. He let his eyes follow the dirty blonde sand until the beach hooked around. At the edge he could see the stacks of the old power plant, just as bare and left-behind as the boardwalk.

He listened to the crash of the waves behind him and the screeching gulls overhead. They reminded him of flying rats. They circled above begging for a scrap of anything and if you took pity on them, decided it wouldn’t be so bad to feed these mongrels then they took everything.

The foam rushed toward his feet and he stepped back; that’s when he spotted the ridges of a shell, half buried in the wet sand. His fingers reached for the worn shell and let the freezing water wash away the debris. Holding it he pictured Gemma here, laughing at the heart he had drawn in the sand, teasing him about his “artwork”. He clenched his fist around the pink shell and hissed as the edges broke skin. It hadn’t seemed that sharp. He threw the shell back into the sea and watched it fall, watched it sink back into the ocean.

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