Today it’s Gemma who is coming to talk with me. I’m excited for this one. If I’m honest, Gemma is my favourite. I don’t think the first book really showed what a wonderful person she is. In fact, I’ve been told she just comes across as whiny.
This is the first time I’ve invited a fictional person into my home and not been nervous about it. I mean, Edel was terrifying, and I don’t think my interview with Danny could have gone worse, but Gemma? Gemma is down to Earth. She is patient and kind. Oh, and she is about as physically strong as a wet paper bag, so I don’t need to worry about getting my head caved in if things go badly.
I make tea, knowing it is Gemma’s favourite. It’s mine too actually, so there is always tea in my kitchen. As I carry the two cups through from my kitchen into my living room, I find her standing aimlessly in the middle of my room, looking a little nervous. Her hands fiddle with a wayward strand of hair and she smooths down her plain black top as though she is trying to make herself more presentable.
My face breaks into a smile as I see her. I can’t help it. Meeting Gemma feels like I’m meeting an old friend, though looking at the nerves displayed on her face, it seems she doesn’t feel the same way.
She swallows and wets her lips with the tip of her tongue. “Hi.” She clears her throat and offers me a timid smile.
I gesture to the sofa and tell her to take a seat, then I hand her the tea, which she accepts gratefully. Her eyes dance around the room, settling on pictures of my family and some of my ornamental candles, then they stray to the window. “You have a garden?”
I smile. Private gardens are a rarity in Harpton Main that only the rich can afford, and public green space is limited to legitimate citizens only. Poor Gemma has never known the simple pleasure of taking a walk alone in the countryside. If she wants to take a walk in nature, she needs Danny to accompany her. My garden is small, and I’ll be honest with you, it’s unkempt. Gardening is definitely NOT something I find enjoyable, but as I take in the wistful look on Gemma’s face it sparks a bit of shame in me. I should probably take better care of it. “It’s not much,” I say dismissively. I instantly regret my words. It might not be much by my standards but it’s a pure luxury from Gemma’s point of view. She has a small, concrete yard at her house, only big enough for the small chicken coop and an old tin bath which she uses to wash her clothing in. She’d probably give her right arm for a real garden.
I watch as she sips her tea. Gemma’s movements are graceful even though she seems hesitant.
This feels different to the other interviews. The last two felt like I was under scrutiny, like I had to impress them. Especially Danny. This feels like the tables have turned, and Gemma is doing her best to ensure I leave with a good opinion of her. I want to tell her there is no need. I want to tell her I already think highly of her. But I don’t know how without making her feel uncomfortable.
“How are you?” I ask. I want to scream at myself for once again opening with this question, though in Gemma’s case, ‘how are you’ seems like an appropriate opening.
“I’m well, thank you.” She smiles at me and brings her cup to her mouth for another sip.
“And your family?”
A shadow passes over her features and her face hardens. “They are fine, thank you.”
“Is craig still giving you a hard time about the fact you are dating Danny?”
She swallows and gives a small nod. “It’s frowned upon. They don’t understand. Everyone thinks I am a gold digger, but it isn’t like that.”
“I know it isn’t.”
“Craig hates me. He’s making my life difficult at home.” Her hand comes to her mouth and she quickly apologises. “Sorry, I shouldn’t talk about my family like that.”
Craig deserves it. I might invite him here one day, just so I can give him a telling off. “It’s okay. We can’t always agree with our brothers and sisters, can we?” I offer her a conspiratorial smile, then I ask the question that has been plaguing my mind for two weeks now. “And, how is Danny?” I aim for nonchalance, but I know I sound desperately nervous.
Gemma offers me a mischievous grin. “He’s fine.”
“We didn’t get off to the best start,” I mutter.
“I heard.” She raises her eyebrows at me and offers me a smirk. The expression and her tone make me snort with laughter and I remember why Gemma is my favourite. She’s so easy to talk to.
“Was he mad? He hasn’t really spoken to me since,” I confide in her.
“He was upset, but he’s over it now. I guess he’s just been busy.”
“I thought he might try to talk you out of coming here.”
“I wanted to come. I wanted to see your world.” Her eyes scan my living room once more. “Your house has stairs. Are you like Danny? Are you one of the rich elite?”
A cackle of laughter escapes my lips. “No!” It takes me a moment to compose myself, but, NO! If our society was split as rigidly as theirs, I am certain I wouldn’t be considered one of the elite.
“But you aren’t a casher?”
“Things aren’t like that here. I’m not going to pretend that there is a pure equality in our society, but people aren’t segregated here like they are in your world. You don’t need permission to be here, in my village. You can wander the streets, and enter the city, and nobody will ask you to prove your citizenship, or ask you to leave because you would like to pay with paper instead of plastic.”
“Must be nice,” she mused.
“It’s not perfect. This world has its own set of problems, but we aren’t here to discuss those.”
“What am I here to discuss?”
“Well, nothing really. I just thought the readers would like a chance to get to know you.”
Gemma takes a moment to peer around the room once more, as if looking for these invisible ‘readers’. “It’s weird that you wrote about me in a book,” she whispers. “Why would anybody be interested in me? I can see why you would want to tell people about Danny. And Edel. But I’m nothing special.”
“Nothing special?” I gape at her aghast. Does she really not see how wonderful she is? She is strong. She stands her ground and believes in her convictions. Her moral compass always points north. She stands up for people who need it. And the way she puts up with Frank and his prejudices towards her, but never has a bad word to say about him behind his back is truly impressive. As I put my thoughts into words, her cheeks turn a light shade of pink and she averts her eyes, shaking her head.
“I’m nothing special,” she murmurs again. “I’m just me.”
“That’s what I like about you, Gemma.”
She looks away uneasily and its obvious she isn’t used to be given compliments. “I should get back,” she says. “I have to work soon.”
She places her empty cup back on my coffee table. “Thank you.”
I’m certain she isn’t thanking me for the tea, but for telling her something she probably needed to hear.