Chapter 21:

She Didn't Get the Gold I

Sunview


November 20, 2022 AD. Webber Household, Casa Magnolia, USA, EarthBookmark here

Cam spent most of the rest of the short trip with Annette sitting alone in the Webber house. The whole Saturday, Valentine dragged her daughter out on what she called “mother-daughter outings.” Annette had silently sent Cam a look that begged for help, but he knew he didn’t stand a chance against Valentine. Besides, the encounter with Annette the previous night had been…exhausting. He didn’t mind a day to himself to reflect and recuperate. Fortunately, Valentine’s boyfriend Gabe had left the house late on Friday night, which meant Cam truly had the house to himself. Bookmark here

He entertained himself by watching a random documentary on the Webber’s Netflix account, followed by flipping through his phone. Eventually, he remembered that finals were coming soon and he really needed to study, so he reluctantly retrieved his laptop and got to work. He had just paused for a late afternoon snack when the door to the house burst open. In stormed Annette, carrying several large shopping bags. Valentine was absent. “Is everything ok? Where’s your mom?” he asked.Bookmark here

“We fought. I ditched her and took an Uber home.”Bookmark here

“What was the argument about?”Bookmark here

“It was about none of your business, nerdman.” Although she was clearly tired, she had no malice in her tone. She flopped over to the couch and sat down.Bookmark here

Eyeing the bag, Cam said “I’m sure whatever you bought was a real comfort to you on the trip home.”Bookmark here

“No reason to abandon good clothes over a little familial spat.” Bookmark here

“What’d you buy?”Bookmark here

“I got a new swimsuit. Want me—” Bookmark here

“—To model it for you?” Cam finished her sentence. “I’m good.”Bookmark here

She pouted. “You’re getting to be no fun.”Bookmark here

You’re getting to be too predictable.”Bookmark here

“Also, sorry to ditch you all day. What’ve you done this whole time?”Bookmark here

“Study.” He showed her his computer.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, people do that, huh.” She looked like she genuinely was reminded.Bookmark here

“What, do not study?”Bookmark here

“Never have a day of my life. Got all Bs and As anyway.” She was clearly smug about this fact. Grumpy at the memory of all the all-nighters and headaches he had endured over the years to hold his grade, he thought blessed with beauty and brains? That’s just unfair. Bookmark here

Valentine left them alone after dinner. From the clues he picked up at the awkward meal, the cause of the two women’s argument had been Annette calling Cam her friend, not boyfriend. He wasn’t quite sure why that was an issue, but apparently it had been a big problem for Valentine. Bookmark here

Cam and Annette stayed the rest of the night. They finished watching the first Lord of the Rings movie together in silence before going to bed early. They returned to campus early the next morning. Annette’s car pulled into the parking lot at the same time Bekah’s did on her return from church. She excitedly called out to them. Annette seemed happy to chat. The two girls began talking in the parking lot with no sign of letting up. Cam amused himself for a while simply by watching the two talk and letting his mind wander, but he grew bored quickly. Even though he was wearing a jacket, the morning was a little chilly. As soon as the opportunity arose, he excused himself from the conversation and set off toward his dorm.Bookmark here

The route took him near the sports field. Normally, it would be silent at this time, but shouts and cheers disturbed the peace. The small bleachers were full of people, some wearing Sunview University’s school colors, while others wore color combinations he didn’t recognize. On one of the fields, several athletic-looking girls ran a course of hurdles. Ella said there was a big track event today, he recalled. He had never actually seen Ella compete, and all he had to look forward to back at his dorm was more studying, so he decided to stay and watch for a while. Bookmark here

The bleachers were totally packed, however, so he made his way behind them to look for another seat. Because of his morning training with Ella, he was very familiar with the athletic field area. He decided on a little nook hidden between the corners of two buildings that was difficult to spot unless you knew what to look for, but still had a good view of the field. When he walked to this part, however, it was already occupied. Cam recognized the long blond hair and lanky but muscular female body at once. It was Ella, dressed in the Sunview colors workout gear. She was hunched in the shadows, furiously typing something in a laptop. This seemed odd to Cam; shouldn’t she be warming up or something? She didn’t look tired at all, so he doubted that she had already run.Bookmark here

He called out to her. She yelped loudly and said “don’t read it!”Bookmark here

“What?” Cam asked.Bookmark here

“What? Oh, hello Cam. I’m not hiding anything.”Bookmark here

“Riiight…”Bookmark here

Ella was flustered. Ella was never flustered. She set down, closed, opened, re-closed, and re-opened the laptop on the concrete ground. Cam waited patiently for her to collect herself. “What are you doing here?” she finally asked.Bookmark here

“Thought I’d stop by and watch you run. You haven’t gone yet, right?”Bookmark here

His question was answered by a roar of a man’s voice echoing through the nearby buildings. “Ella! Where the hell are you!” it thundered. “The race was supposed to start already!”Bookmark here

She leaped to her feet. “Coming coach!” she called out, sprinting out of the hiding spot, leaving the laptop behind. Bookmark here

Cam said “you forgot your computer,” but she was already out of earshot. She runs fast, he noted. She must always slow down for him on their morning runs. Since he had planned on waiting here anyway, he decided he could easily watch Ella’s computer until she got back.Bookmark here

On the field, the race started. Ella quickly moved near the front of the pack. Cam watched the race, but he realized that this was a long-distance event. The runners kept going and going. To an amateur like Cam, watching a bunch of people jog in circles got boring quite quickly. After the 6th or 7th lap, his eyes fell on Ella’s abandoned laptop. It was still turned on. Cam could see it was running a word processing program. Idly, he wondered what she was studying. As the runners, including Ella, continued to do nothing interesting, he decided to take a peek at whatever she was working on. Just a quick look he assured his twinging conscience.Bookmark here

He had expected something boring. Maybe an article or a digital textbook for a class; after all, finals were coming very soon. He also would have been unsurprised if she had been writing some kind of notes for some class. Ella did not seem the type to slack off before a big event by watching a show or something similar, but even that would have been more comprehensible. Bookmark here

Instead, the computer had just one program open: a word processor. The open page was covered in typed text. Fully committed to his espionage, Cam read a few words. The forelorn princess cradled the fallen body of her beloveed younger sister, wailing to the heavens at the injustice that such a cind soul should be taken from this wretched earth so haste. As if in empathetic reply, the rainclouds above delivered their sorry load watering the parched earth like water watering a dying womans mouth while the mourners cry their useless tears in rhythm. Bookmark here

“What the heck is this?” Cam wondered aloud. He had read the last few words on the page, so he scrolled back up a few paragraphs to read more. All of it was in the same questionable quality. The actual content didn’t make much sense, so he used a command in the program to jump back to the beginning of the document. When he did, he noticed something remarkable. “600 pages?” he said in disbelief. He didn’t know too much about books, but that seemed like a ridiculously high number, especially since it seemed like this document was unfinished. Bookmark here

He began reading from the top. The Warrioress’ Journey, by Ella Martin. He began reading from chapter 1. The very poor grammar and purple prose made it difficult to comprehend, but best he could tell, it was an epic fantasy about a princess who wished to escape boring royal life by training with the sword. The plot was confusing and nonsensical, the main character was incredibly bland, the attempted humor was unfunny and the attempted drama was unintentionally hilarious, and of course the writing itself was riddled with errors. Still, for some reason, Cam felt himself read on. It was like watching a 600-page car crash happen: you couldn’t help but keep looking. Besides, he was in constant awe that this had been created by Ella, of all people. Sure, he had seen her typing something on this laptop before, but she had never once mentioned that she was writing a novel. Bookmark here

He kept scrolling through the document as the track event ended. With a start, he realized that the sun was beginning to set. He must have sat there on the ground, reading this novel manuscript, for over six hours. He felt a shadow on him. Cam looked up to see Ella’s tall figure looming over him. It was too late to pretend he had been doing anything other than looking at her computer. Bookmark here

Cam scrambled to his feet. “I’m so sorry, I know I shouldn’t have done that—” as he made excuses, he noticed something hanging around her neck. A silver medal. Pointing at it, he feebly said “congratulations.”Bookmark here

“Did you read it?” At first, Cam didn’t recognize the voice as Ella’s. She had a fairly deep voice for a girl, but this question was asked in a shrill squeak. “Did you?” she repeated.Bookmark here

“Yes.” Bookmark here

She let out a shriek of embarrassment. “How could you? Ahh!” Her face totally red, she pounded on him with her fists. Considering how strong she was, it hurt a lot. After beating him up, she covered her face with her hands and cowered back. “That was my private stuff!”Bookmark here

Rubbing his new bruises, cam apologized again. “I’m really, really sorry. But more important, seriously, congratulations on second! That’s amazing, Ella.”Bookmark here

“I don’t care about that,” she said with a pout. She crossed her arms and looked away. “I bet you think it’s awful. You must have been laughing at me all this time.”Bookmark here

It was pretty bad, Cam thought. Instead, he said “it was very…interesting.”Bookmark here

“People always say ‘interesting’ when they mean ‘terrible.’ Go ahead, give me your honest opinion.”Bookmark here

“Right then. Real talk: there’s a lot to work on. You desperately need an editor to help you clean up the prose, but more than that, the plot has several issues. I haven’t read the whole thing, but to begin—” His monologue was cut off by a sudden rush of tears from Ella.Bookmark here

“Cam, you meanie!” she said. “Just say you hate it!” Bookmark here

As she cried, Cam gazed at her with confusion. I’ve never seen this side of her. Is this really the same girl who wakes me up at godforsaken early-o’clock every morning to run and do karate? “But,” he said, laying special emphasis on the word, “there’s a lot of good stuff here. The setting is unique; you’ve done a great job with worldbuilding. There is also a lot of potential with the court intrigue side if you develop it more.” He wasn’t lying, exactly; there were some good parts. He was just putting extra emphasis on those very, very few good parts. Bookmark here

“So you’re saying…you don’t hate it?” Ella asked. Bookmark here

“Of course I don’t. With a lot of work and with the help of an editor, you can (maybe) make this into something special.” The sunlight glinted off her silver medal hanging over her heart. “Actually, what am I saying. Amazing job on the run today! I’d offer to buy you dinner, but I bet you have a party or something.”Bookmark here

“Will you be my editor?” Bookmark here

“Eh?” He must have heard her incorrectly. Bookmark here

“Cam, will you be my editor like you’re talking about?” Ella leaned in very, very close to him, an earnest expression on her sweaty face. She grasped one of his hands in hers. “Please?” Bookmark here

During their training, Cam had been touched by Ella before many times. It was impossible to avoid since she insisted on using him as her target to practice takedowns. But only now did it strike him that her long hands were callused, as though she worked with her hands. He said “you should get someone who knows what he’s doing…”Bookmark here

“I know you know what to do! You know?” she insisted.Bookmark here

“All right, I can try. Just this once.” Bookmark here

“Yay!” She threw up her hands and did a cute little spin in place in celebration. If you had asked me what kind of hidden depths Ella could have, there’s no way I would have guessed this Cam mused. Ella said “when can we start?”Bookmark here

“Well, things are going to be busy soon. We should probably wait until after finals…”Bookmark here

“Are you busy tonight? Let’s start tonight!” It was like she hadn’t even heard him. Bookmark here

Cam heaved a sigh. “All right. I guess I owe you that much for reading your stuff without permission. But aren’t you tired from the whole all-day competition thing?”Bookmark here

“I didn’t try hard enough to tire myself out. I do want dinner though. Let’s get food right now so we can start as soon as possible.” Without waiting for a response, she dragged Cam in the direction of the cafeteria, the silver medal bouncing on her chest.Bookmark here

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