Gemma Goes Hollywood

I’m reading the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Years ago I read the first one, but after having finished the second one today I think I’m in new territory. I know I stopped reading the series after my sister spoiled it for me, but for the second time this week I finished a book in tears.
“What is it about those books that makes you cry?” my husband asked. (He’s naturally suspicious and distrustful of anything and anyone who makes me cry.) “It’s a story about four girls.”
“What’s with the pants?” (Every book has a picture of a pair of pants on the cover.) “They’re magic pants,” I said. “Magic pants?” His dislike goes up a notch.
I told him that I’m thinking of writing a New Adult series about four girls who, when they graduate from high school, bury a time capsule under a tree on their high school campus. I remind him of my daughter and her group of friends who did the same thing. For three years the girls met for lunch under a tree they named Fred and when they graduated from middle school, they made a time capsule, buried it and dug it up when they graduated from high school. I know this because I drove them to the middle school at midnight the night of middle school graduation. They ran onto the campus armed with shovels and came back in tears.
I remember that I wanted to tell my daughter and her friends that in teenage time, four years is forever. Acne fades, breasts grow, love sweeps in and blows away—a lot happens and people change in the four years between the onset of puberty and graduation.
But even more can happen and change during the college years and that’s what I want to write about. Maybe it’s because my baby daughters are about to start college in a school far from home…maybe this is my way of joining them… I don’t know, but I do know I have four girls in my head, each with a different story waiting to be told.
“You won’t write about magic pants, will you?” my husband asked.
“No magic pants,” I assured him.
“Good,” he said—confirming the fact that he can’t see the magic, although, if he could only remember—there really was something magical about our college years, when we met and married. 
Here, for your reading enjoyment, is the opening scene of my new novel, Gemma Goes to Hollywood. (Of course, I have five completed novels where you can read more than ten pages and you can find them here.


Gemma shivered when Maisie pulled open the doors, not because of the cold breeze that blew into the hot and crowded gym, but because she expected an alarm to sound—if not the actual fire alarm—which was a distinct possibility—but the dreaded Mom alarm. That alarm that had no sound, was less visible and harder to trace than radar and yet, was more powerful than any force known to man…or to at least to Gemma.

            She cast a worried glance in the corner where she had last seen her mother. Couples swayed on the dance floor beneath sparkling lights. Some students, although Gemma supposed she could now call them—and herself—alumni, after all they had just graduated, hovered around the refreshment table, guzzling lemonade and munching on the cookies. Gemma spotted her mother. Maggs was busy with Marissa Lyon, a busty girl in a spaghetti strap dress who had snapped a strap. Marissa would keep her mother occupied with safety pins and if Gemma was lucky—and Marissa unlucky—a lecture on modesty, vanity clothing and the general ineptitude of spaghetti straps.

Having her mom in her orbit usually made Gemma want to crawl under the bleachers, but Maisie tugged on her hand pulled her through the high school gym doors. She sent her mother one more worried glance and met the gaze of Mr. Harmon, the hottest biology teacher to tease the girls of Twain High. It was painful enough to have to listen to a lecture on the reproductive cycle while being surrounded by sniggering football players but to have Mr. Harmon deliver said lecture made Gemma’s insides twist in uncomfortable knots. Hormonal for Harmon, Deidre called it—referring her own seventh period perpetual pink cheeks. Mr. Harmon saw them leave. Would he tell her mom? Gemma swallowed and followed Maisie.

            Up ahead, Deidre and Tessa ran through the moonlight, their shoes dangling from their fingers. Gemma and Maisie hurried to catch up, tripping across the black top, stepping over where they had once played hopscotch and passing the jungle gym, affectionately called the “big toy.”

            Gemma had to fight back a wave of nostalgia when Deidre and Tess disappeared behind Fred, the tree where they had spent every recess and every lunch break since first grade. She couldn’t remember who had first named the tree—or why—but they had been saying “meet me at Fred” for more than twelve years. Tonight could possibly be the second to the last time they would meet at Fred.

            A wind picked up and a shiver ran down Gemma’s spine. She looked at her friends and tried to return their smiles –she wouldn’t let envy spoil their last night at Twain High together. She loved her friends. She wanted them to have shiny, bright futures…she just wished that her own had more sparkle and less dirty diapers.

            “Hurry!” Tessa called/whispered.

            Deidre held up her hands like a police man conducting traffic and Gemma and Maisie both stopped.

            “No,” Deidre used her normal speaking voice. “A time capsule cannot be hurried.”

            “What if we’re caught?” Tessa asked, bravely raising her voice to almost audible.

            Gemma thought about mentioning Mr. Harmon, but she didn’t. If they were caught, they were caught. “What can they do? Expel us—after we have already graduated?”

            She wasn’t as nearly as worried about Mr. Harmon as she was about her own mother, but she agreed with Deidre. Something as important as a time capsule shouldn’t be hurried.

            Deidre picked up the mason jar they had previously hidden in the patch of honeysuckle that grew around Fred’s trunk and shook out four pens. “Be very careful, your futures are at stake.”

            Gemma accepted the pen and slip of paper and sat down on the stone ledge. Writing something down made it real. It also made it traceable. And accountable. She had learned that the hard way back in seventh grade when Mrs. Bartlett confiscated the note she had written to Tessa during biology. She shot Tessa a glance; it was so hard to believe that Tessa, who had always been so scrawny and small, had grown up to look like Twiggy, but with boobs.

Tessa sat hunched over her paper, the pen sticking out of her mouth and her lips turned down. Gemma wondered what Tessa was worried about—her future lay before her like a golden carpet. Gemma elbowed Tessa. “Go ahead, write it down, Mrs. Teresa Donnelly.”

Tessa flushed pink, the color spreading over cheeks.

“Mrs. Jackson Donnelly—” Deidre began.

“Travels to China,” Tessa finished, putting her pen to paper.

“You’re writing that down?” Maisie asked.

“The China part—not the Mrs. Donnelly part,” Tessa said.

“Better not tell Jackson,” Maisie said.

“Of course I’m going to marry Jackson.” Tessa flipped her long golden hair over her shoulder. “Just not yet. He has to finish law school and I…have things I want to do.”

“What things?” Deidre asked. “You never mentioned things before.”

“Things like traveling to China.” Tessa straightened her spine.

“I can see you picking out China…but going to China?” Maisie shook her head.

“Why not?” Tessa wrote down China again, but this time in big capital letters. “I want to make a difference—help people.”

“In China?”

“Well—what are you writing down?” Tessa looked over at Maisie’s blank paper.

“Hot, steamy romance,” Maisie said slowly as she wrote down the three words.

Gemma laughed. “That doesn’t sound like you.”

“Why not?” Maisie borrowed Tessa’s phrase.

“Hot, stinking baseball cleats sounds like you,” Gemma told her, ignoring her own blank piece of paper.

“Baseball players are hot—that’s why kissing is called first base and not first in ten.”

Gemma didn’t want to argue sports sex definitions so she lifted her shoulder and hunched over her paper. She didn’t have anything to write. In fact, she didn’t have anything to look forward to except a life sentence of babysitting. All of her friends had a future waiting for them and Gemma had her mom pacing in the gym, wondering where her daughter was and how long she managed to get out from under her thumb. Gemma twisted her lips and looked over at Deidre’s paper.

“I don’t have anything to write,” Deidre admitted. “I’ve been thinking about it all day.”

“What about the Cordon Bleu?” Gemma asked.

“That’s boring.”

“But tasty.” Gemma looked down at her own blank piece of paper. Nothing was as boring as staying in Twain, so she wrote down, “Hollywood.”

Deidre lifted the corners of her mouth. “You can’t just write down Hollywood. We can go to Hollywood in an afternoon.”

Gemma bit her lip and wrote down, “Dylan Florence.”

Maisie raised her eyebrows. “Your future is Dylan Florence?”

“And Hollywood.” Gemma copied her mother’s holier than thou tone. “Hey, if you can have a hot and steamy romance, I can Dylan Florence.”

Tessa lowered her pen. “This is supposed to be serious.”

“I am serious. I’m seriously in love with Dylan Florence.”

“Whom you have never, and most likely, never will, meet.”

Gemma tried to will the secret away, but it sat at the edge of her lips, bursting to be said out loud. It killed her that she couldn’t tell her friends that Dylan Florence was actually much closer than Hollywood—which really wasn’t so far away, either—but her parents would kill her if she shared. She pressed her lips together, took a deep breath and said, “It’s a very one side and one dimensional sort of relationship.”

Tessa nodded. “Sometimes those are the best kind.”

Gemma stared at her paper. She was serious. She would spend the rest of her life watching Dylan Florence on TV, even though he was almost within kissing distance, and occasionally driving into Hollywood whenever her grandfather snapped his fingers. Deidre would go to cooking school, Maisie would go to UCI on an athletic scholarship, and Tessa would shop for China with Jackson. If her friends could have futures—then it was only fair that she could have Dylan Florence.

Even if she had to share him with millions of fans.

Deidre searched the honeysuckle until she found the trowel they had hid with the Mason jar. She held up the garden tool like a scepter. “Remember, by writing down our dreams, we’ve made them real. We have sent our predictions into the Universe. What we visualize we will realize.”

Gemma imagined Dylan Florence like a hologram, wavering before her eyes. Folding her slip of paper, she put it in the jar and imagined Dylan Florence, as tangible as the smoke of a magic genie, floating into the jar as well. She watched her friends place their futures into the jar. Tessa kissed her paper before she dropped it in. Deidre held the jar up so it caught a ray of moonlight. An unfamiliar wave of reverence swept over Gemma as Deidre handed the trowel to Maisie. 

After a moment of digging, Maisie stood. “It’s finished.”

The girls stared at the hole next to Fred, it looked like a tiny grave. Gemma wanted to be happy, but she felt like she was burying all her hopes and dreams, even though she hadn’t even written down her real dreams. She’d been mocking, joking—making light of her dim future.

Deidre placed the jar in the hole and Maisie tapped the dirt back in place. Tessa rearranged the honeysuckle so that no one would even be able to tell that they had ever even been there.

“Until 2020,” Deidre said.

“2020,” the girls echoed.

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Stealing Mercy

Stealing Mercy

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