Chapter 7:

The DM and the Athlete


October 1, 2022 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth

Cam woke up early for a weekend. Normally, he liked to sleep in very late on Saturday, almost until dinnertime. Of course, that pattern had been interrupted the previous few weeks. He had to get up earlier in order to prepare for the Sunviewers session in the early afternoon. Still, that meant he didn’t have to get up until well after 12:30. But today, for some reason, his eyes were forced open by 9:00am.

Actually, the reason was obvious. Some kind of music was blasting at ear-damaging levels. Cam listened blearily. Some sort of J-pop song? “What is that?” he croaked, propping himself up from the bed. He could look across the room to see Jordan with ironing some clothing. Jordan, looking equally horrified, dove across the room to grab his phone and turn off the sound.

“I am so sorry dude!” Jordan said. “That’s my alarm to call my family. I forgot that I turned my phone volume up last night.” He looked truly remorseful.

“It’s whatever,” grumbled Cam. He was fully awake now, and he could tell that there was no way he was going to fall asleep again. Yawning, he rolled out of bed to put on some clothes. He debated staying in his room to play video games, but Jordan had said he was about to call his parents. One time, Cam had made the mistake of being in the room while Jordan made the call via a video chat app on his computer. The parents had been so excited to meet Cam that they hadn’t let him get away for hours. So today, Cam decided to vacate the dorm room before Jordan made the call.

With nothing to do, he wandered out of his dorm room. The day was warm but not hot yet. The sun peeked in and out of the spotty clouds, constantly changing the brightness of the area. His stomach rumbled. He had food back in his room, but again—roommate on a call with annoying parents.

He was walking aimlessly, gazing into the sky in boredom, when a voice behind him called “heads up!” Someone rushed past him, almost knocking him down.

“Geez, watch where you’re going idiot,” he said, picking himself up. He then noticed that the person who had knocked him down was Ella, who was now jogging in place, looking at him concerned. “Oh, hi, Ella. Sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. I should watch where I’m going,” she said, lightly knocking herself on the head as her legs came to a rest. She was wearing a sports top, short shorts, a headband to keep her long blond hair out of her eyes, and sneakers. Clearly, she had been running. “What are you doing around here?” she asked, wiping the sweat off her forehead.

“Nothing,” Cam said. “Being bored.”

“Ok. Hey, if you’ve got nothing to do, want to join me for the rest of my run? It’d be nice to have a workout buddy.” She smiled exuberantly as she spoke.

“No thank you,” Cam said emphatically. It’s not like he was afraid of working out or anything. He was totally strong. Totally. It’s just, well, he hadn’t worked out since… “I guess the last time I ran around was in gym class in high school,” he mused.

“What was that?” Ella asked.

“Nothing.” Cam’s stomach chose that point to make an enormous rumble of hunger.


“Not at all.” His stomach rumbled again.

Ella laughed. “I’ve got energy bars back at the locker room. C’mon, I’ve only got another quarter mile left in the run. What’s the harm?”

Cam said “oh, all right.” He happened to be wearing his running shoes shorts at the moment. His shirt might be an issue, though—it was a cool but inflexible button-down. He liked this shirt and did not want to get it all sweaty. Still, he definitely did not want to be in the room with Jordan calling his parents at this time. I’ll have to make it work, he decided. He didn’t want to take of his shirt. Comparing Ella’s muscled body to his decidedly flabby one was embarrassing.

“Amazing!” Ella exclaimed. “C’mon, I’ll race you!”

She’s exhausted, and I’m still fresh, Cam thought. What’s the harm? He agreed.

As it turned out, there was a lot of harm. Ella showed no signs of tiredness. Cam valiantly tried to run. And, between the gasping, panting, stumbling, vision loss, and coughing, he did run. Very, very slowly. “You’re doing great!” Ella called out in encouragement. She was now jogging backward in order to keep pace with him. Cam tried to come up with a witty retort, but there was not enough oxygen in his brain to say anything other than gehueghddd. “Keep breathing!” Ella called out, now jogging full circles around him as he stumbled forward.

Somehow, he stumbled all the way to the locker rooms for the track team. He collapsed onto the ground, face looking toward the sky. I want to die, he thought hazily. Too much pain…

Crouching down, Ella pushed a bottle into his hand. “Are you ok?” she asked, looking genuinely concerned. Cam had no response other than to push the bottle to his lips and drink the entire container of energy drink without pausing for a breath. After what felt like an eternity, he sat up. Ella was still crouched next to him, but she looked relieved at his recovery. “Um, you did really, really well,” she said in the least convincing voice imaginable. She put her finger up. “Maybe you should work on your breathing technique?”

“Yeah, sure. Breathing. That’s what I need to train” Cam said. “And stamina. And leg muscles. And apparently my brain, for agreeing to this stupid idea.”

“You weren’t that bad,” Ella said. At Cam’s glare, she revised her opinion. “Ok, you were pretty bad. But I’ve seen worse. The most important thing is that you actually tried. A lot of people wouldn’t even bother to run at all. My coach always says, ‘he who fails will succeed someday, but he who never tries will die a failure.’ And then he makes us run laps until we puke.” She laughed ruefully.

Cam had recovered enough to stand up with wobbly legs. His shirt was utterly ruined. It clung to him with his own sweat, crumpling in the most awkward places. When the run had begun, the weather had been quite cool. Now, though, the sun was fully up and blazing hot. Just wanting to cool down, Cam hurriedly unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. Only then did he realize that he was stripping in front of Ella. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know I’m unpleasant to look at.”

“What are you apologizing for?” Standing up, Ella scanned his bare chest and flabby belly. “Nope, nothing wrong. Don’t be so self-conscious. Everyone’s workout program starts somewhere.”

“Workout program?”

“Sure! I’m sure once you start training regularly, you’ll feel great.”

“Right.” Cam thought about that as Ella walked off, saying she was going to get the energy bars. By the time she had returned, Cam had made up his mind. “Could you train me?” he asked her.

She looked surprised but happy. “Sure, if you want! Nobody else on the team ever joins me on my morning run. Why don’t we start there?”

Cam smiled, already regretting all the sleeping in he was going to miss. “I look forward to working with you, coach,” he said, offering out his fist for a fist bump. Ella returned the gesture.

“Hey, while you’re here, could you help me out with something else? My normal training partner is out today,” she said.

“It better not be more running,” Cam said dryly.

In response, Ella went back into the room and returned with a large bag, about three feet high. It was bent inward in the middle, with handles on the back. “Could you hold this for me? I want to practice karate.”

Hold a bag? Easy enough. “You have to do karate for the track team?” Cam asked, accepting the bag. He slipped his hands into the straps.

“Nah, I just do that for myself,” Ella said. Without further warning, turned sideways, landing a powerful kick right to the center of the bag. While the bag absorbed and diffused some of the impact, he still took a strong blow to his abdomen. Fully unprepared, Cam was knocked onto his butt. “Sorry!” Ella called out. “Should have warned you.”

“It’s fine,” he grunted, already feeling the soreness in his stomach. “How many of those do you have to do?”

“Hm? Oh, just 50 kicks on each leg. Then 100 punches from each hand. Light practice today.” Light practice. Totally, he thought. She took a stance, getting ready to kick again. This time, Cam was ready. Although it still hurt, he stayed on his feet this time.

As Ella continued to punch and kick, Cam gradually got the hang of how to absorb the impact using the bag, minimizing the amount of damage he took. “Hey, I’ve been wondering,” he asked presently.

“What is it?” Ella asked, landing another strong kick.

“In D&M,” Cam replied, the bag absorbing the kick, “why do you have Erenata talk, as Annette put it, like an escapee from Shakespeare boot camp? You don’t have to do that.”

“Oh, you know,” Ella grunted out another strike.

“I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”

Ella came to a stop, breathing heavily. She looked Cam in the eyes. “There’s no real reason, I guess,” she finally said. She walked away, grabbing another bottle of energy drink.

Cam didn’t buy that explanation. Thinking of Annette’s jibe, he remembered his conversation with her several days ago, about how she could read a situation just from contextual clues. On a whim, he decided to try that with Ella and her strange speaking patterns in D&M. When he thought about it, the answer seemed obvious. “You were in the theater class in middle school!” he triumphantly deduced. Sure, there was very little evidence, but he was confident in his Sherlockian skills regardless.

Ella looked surprised for a moment. “Um, sure. Yep, Haha, you read me like a book. I was in a production of A Midday’s Night Dream in 6th grade.” As she put her hands behind her head, Cam was struck again that Ella was a terrible liar. Also, A Midday’s Night Dream? Cam was pretty sure that wasn’t a real Shakespeare play.

“Well, that’s enough for today,” Ella said, heading in the direction of the woman’s locker room. “We’ll get started on your training on Monday. See you for D&M later today.”

“See you this afternoon” Cam said back. Exhausted, sore, and shirtless, he trudged his way back to his dorm to prepare for the upcoming session of D&M.