Chapter 22:

She Didn't Get the Gold II


November 20, 2022 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth

Cam and Ella got their dinner from the cafeteria. Grilled salmon with rice and vegetables. “Lucky it’s fish,” Cam joked. “You’re going to need the boost to your brain to write this novel of yours.”

“Yes, you’re right,” she replied without a trace of irony. She ordered a second serving for herself, explaining that she was still starving from her long day.

Once they got their food, they looked for seating in the cafeteria dining area. It was pretty full, but Cam spotted a table with only one occupant: Dinah. She had her nose in a book and apparently hadn’t noticed that she had an enormous clump of rice stuck to her face. “Geez, you’re hopeless,” Cam said as he and Ella sat next to her. He grabbed a napkin and removed the offending food particles from her face.

Dinah sputtered and turned bright red. “Eek! What are you doing?” She pulled back defensively, clutching her Calculus textbook to her chest.

“You had food on your face,” Cam explained. Dinah tried to answer, but she was too much of a sputtering mess to be coherent. Cam felt bad. “Sorry for bothering you while you’re studying.” Red-faced and coughing, Dinah nodded.

After a few minutes of eating where Dinah attempted to study but was obviously peeking at the two of them, she finally asked “Ella, what’s that medal?”

“Second place in long-distance running” she answered matter-of-factly.

“I see.” After a moment, she seemed to realize what that meant. “Ah, congratulations! Wow, I always knew you were amazing!” She smiled sadly. “I wish I was amazing at anything like that.”

“You’re amazing at doing things you’re bad at,” Ella said. “I wish I could do that.”

“I don’t really know what that means, but thank you anyway. By the way, what are you two doing together?” She tried to sound casual, but that only highlighted her obvious nervousness.

“Oh, Cam peeped at something of mine that he shouldn’t have. But I’m a little relieved. Now, there’s one person I can show everything, even if I don’t want others to see.”

“Don’t make it sound like a weird innuendo!” Cam hissed, but it was too late. Dinah became even redder than before. Muttering some excuse about not wanting to bother them, she stuffed her book into her backpack and practically sprinted away. “You got the last answer on the page wrong,” he called after her half-heartedly.

“I wonder what’s with her,” Ella said. “She left in such a hurry.”

“It’s because you made it sound like we—ah, forget it.”

Ella shoveled food into her mouth, clearly wanting to eat as quickly as possible. So by the time Cam ate his last bite, she was impatiently tapping her fingers on the table. Cam began to ask where she wanted to work, but she took out her laptop and slammed it onto the table. Cam nodded.

He had no idea how to properly help someone write a novel like this, and clearly Ella was out of her depth too. She spent 20 minutes “summarizing” her idea for her story, which sounded like a bewildering combination of Harry Potter, My Hero Academia, and Twilight, with all the worst parts of those stories but none of their good parts. Cam interrupted a monologue about the protagonist’s bewildering set of overpowered magical abilities to ask “do you have an outline I can look at?”

“Nope! I just write whatever comes to mind!” she said happily.

“Figured,” he muttered. He suggested that for today, they start by reading through the first few chapters, correcting anything that seemed obvious. “Also, maybe less purple prose?”

“Ok!” She was enthusiastic. Ella opened her manuscript to the beginning. She began making various changes, guided by Cam at practically every paragraph.

Really, we should start by fixing the overall plot, Cam thought as Ella happily exchanged one grammatical error for another. I just don’t know how to salvage this mess.

Cam and Ella lost track of time, sitting there in the now-empty cafeteria seating. In order to see the words on the screen clearly, Cam had to sit so close to Ella that his face was practically touching hers. At one point, a janitor came to close and lock the room, but Cam managed to talk him into letting them stay longer. Fortunately, the doors for the room were designed to always be openable from the inside even if they were locked, so eventually the janitor shrugged. “Don’t know why you and your girlfriend don’t just move somewhere else,” he grumbled, but he gave in, turning off all but one light. This left Cam and Ella in near darkness alone together. It wasn’t silent, though—besides the sound of the clicking keyboard, the two exchanged jokes or talked about random things.

Normally, Cam would despise this kind of long writing work. He didn’t hate English and writing, exactly, but he certainly didn’t enjoy it enough to do work not even for school on his own time for hours on end. However, the odd circumstances made it pleasant, in a way. He had spent plenty of time with Ella in the past months, but it had always been either with a large group for D&M, or for their exhausting morning training sessions. This more relaxed atmosphere combined with an opportunity to see a totally different side of Ella made the time fly.

Presently, Cam noticed that Ella’s side of the conversation became more and more punctuated with yawns. “Do you want to stop for the night?” Cam asked.

“I’m fine,” she tried to say through another yawn. But it was clear that she was close to falling asleep; she kept making the same mistake over and over.

“Let me do that,” Cam offered, moving her hands out of the way and beginning to type himself. She didn’t protest. Less than a minute later, Cam felt a weight on his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye he could tell that Ella was resting her head on his shoulder, evidently asleep.

As it turned out, in the part of the story he was editing, the protagonist had also fallen asleep, resting her head in the lap of one of her many handsome love interests. Cam smiled at the coincidence. He was tempted to imitate the fictional man by placing her head on his lap, although this was more motivated by the fact that having someone on your shoulder was surprisingly uncomfortable when sitting in a chair with very little back support. He also debated waking her, but she looked so peaceful while sleeping that he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he opted to gently place Ella’s torso on the table. There she lay, snoring slightly.

Without the diversion of conversation, Cam himself was close to falling asleep. He certainly didn’t want to continue editing this terrible manuscript in his state. Instead, in his sleepy stupor, he found himself gazing at Ella in the dim light. She always looks so intimidating because she’s so tall, he thought hazily. But now, she seems more vulnerable. I could believe this is a girl who is more interested in writing than running.

He didn’t know how long they stayed like that, but eventually he decided they had better call it a night. He rubbed his eyes, then started gently shaking Ella. “Hey. Let’s go,” he said quietly. He then realized there was no one around to bother, so he repeated his words more loudly. Ella stirred. When she looked at the clock on the still-active computer, she sat up with a bit more alarm. For the first time, Cam looked at it. He was shocked to find that it was after midnight. The two packed their belongings and exited the area, Cam taking care to turn off the one remaining light.

The cold nighttime air woke them up quickly. Cam, wearing a jacket, was cold enough, but Ella was still dressed in her thin athletic wear from the competition earlier in the day. She looked miserable. When he realized that, he quickly removed his own jacket and placed it around her shoulders. “I’m fine,” she tried to protest.

“If I were Cyton, I could use a little fire magic to warm us up,” he replied. “But for now, take it.” She offered no more protest, instead gratefully hugging the jacket around her bare arms.

They set off in the direction of Ella’s dorm. She tried to protest, but Cam insisted. “I’m not letting you walk home alone at this time of night,” he said. “If some drunk frat boy tried something, I know you’d beat him up without mercy. I’m just here to protect all the intoxicated idiots on campus.”

She laughed and didn’t protest any more. “Thank you for doing all that with the book,” she eventually said as they walked. “You were amazing.”

“I tried my best, but like I said, I don’t know much about writing or editing. I still think you should get someone else to look it over, too. What about Dinah?”

“No!” she said vehemently. “No. I don’t want anyone else to read my work yet. Actually, I don’t know if I’ll ever want anyone to see it.”

“Then why’d you let me help you?”

She thought for a bit. “It helped that you’d already looked. But even if you hadn’t, I don’t know if I would have minded. You’re a special case.”

“I appreciate that.”

“It’s funny,” she continued. “Even after all the takedowns I’ve given you in sparring, I felt like that being in there, writing together, was the closest we’ve ever been.” She laughed. “I bet that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“No, I get it.” Cam walked on, looking up at the starry sky. “Can I ask you something?”


“Well, to be honest, your writing is,” he fumbled for words, “how should I put it?”

“Terrible?” she offered. “Don’t worry, I know.”

“It’s just, well, you’re a great athlete. I mean, look what you did earlier today. Yesterday, technically. Whatever. The point is, why work so hard at something like writing when you’re already so amazing at something else?”

Ella was silent for a long while. Cam was beginning to fear that he’d said something wrong and was about to apologize before she spoke. “Is it ok if I explain with a weird metaphor?”

“Considering the number of weird metaphors, in your writing, I don’t mind.”

“Ouch. Guess I deserve that.” After a short moment she said “you know in D&M how all the characters do what they are good at? Descartes is good at magic, so she wants to be the party wizard. I’m good at frontline fighting, so I want to be the party tank. Rachel is good at healing magic, so she wants to be the party healer.”


“Well, what if suddenly, in game, Descartes decided she wanted to never use magic again and instead work with me as a close combat warrior?”

“That would end poorly. She’d get destroyed as soon as the fighting started.”

“Yes. But that never happens, because we intentionally create our D&M characters to be good at what we want them to be good at. And believe me, if I got to create myself, I’d choose to make myself good at writing instead of running or martial arts.”

“But you can’t choose?”

“But I can’t choose. I’m amazing at athletics while only barely trying, but no matter how much I work, I can never write well, and I know it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate running or anything. But I don’t have a drive to be good at it the way I do writing. You know, I’ve been trying to write that novel since middle school. What you saw is like version 4. It’s still trash. And yet I get the silver medal in running, which I do the bare minimum for.” She laughed. There was a note of bitterness in the words that he had never heard from the usually upbeat, straightforward Ella. “If there is a god, he must have a nasty sense of humor. Hey, that’s a good line! I should add it to the story somewhere.” She pulled out her phone and made a quick note.

Cam didn’t know what to say. He thought about offering all of the ordinary platitudes—you’ll get better, just keep practicing, don’t worry about it—but they all sounded so hollow. He had never gone through anything like this; how could he possibly sympathize? “I’m sorry” was the only thing he could think to say.

“Hey, don’t apologize! It’s not your fault. I’ve kind of learned to deal with it.” She shrugged. “For now, the writing is just a hobby.”

She’s surprisingly serious about this, Cam realized. I’ve been underestimating her all this time, assuming she just a muscle-bound athlete. Even her D&M playstyle—the overly long backstory and the over-the-top dialogue—should have been a hint. I just didn’t pay attention. I am going to make up for that. “If that’s so, then I plan to support that hobby if I can. I’ll stay as your editor for as long as you want me.” He stopped walking and stuck out his hand. In a pool of light created by a streetlamp, he could see her face, just barely illuminated. The faint light bleached her blond hair, making it look ghostly and ethereal, which contrasted with her solid tanned skin.

“You’d really do that much for me?” she asked with a slight tremor in her voice.

“When a member of the Sunviewers is feeling down, Cyton’s not going to abandon them, right?”

“Then, deal.” She took his hand in hers for the second time that night.

The building for Ella’s dorm was just ahead. She broke away in a trot, saying “I can make it from here. And don’t think tonight was an excuse to miss training tomorrow!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” he called back. He watched until she entered the building before turning to make the walk to his dorm.