Chapter 23:

Final Examination


November 27, 2022 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth

“The time has come. Everything in the semester built up to this ultimate test: the Final Examinations!” Ella dramatically proclaimed these words to a group that barely listened.

“Get back to studying, Ella,” Cam replied automatically. They were all hanging out in Cam’s room: Cam, Annette, Bekah, Dinah, Ella, and Jordan. It was a Sunday evening, so usually they would be playing D&M at this time. However, the group minus Ella had all agreed that their time was better spent studying for finals week, which began the next day. But I guess the habit of coming here every weekend dies hard, Cam thought as he sat on the floor with his laptop open.

Annette had stolen his desk to play video games on his system. When asked, she claimed she already knew everything she needed to know meaning that studying was useless. Cam believed her; he had seen first-hand her mental abilities. Of course, being Annette, every now and then she took a break from gaming to sit uncomfortably close to Cam and say things that were perfectly harmless, but in such a way that he couldn’t help to think they had a dirtier meaning.

Dinah, in contrast with the laid-back Annette, was a wreck. The sunken hollows under her eyes made it look like she hadn’t slept in a week. Her notebook was so full of writing that it was totally illegible; Bekah had to lend her a new one. Cam had helped her review everything that would be on the calculus test over the past few days. She tried her very best, but if he was being honest with himself, Cam knew she would be lucky to pass the class, let alone get the high grade she wanted. Still, she refused to give up on calculus or any of her other subjects.

Ella was more normal in that studying apparently annoyed her. All throughout the past week, she had spent a lot of spare time with Cam nominally reviewing notes for her classes. At first, he had been impressed at her dedication, but he quickly realized that she was actually spending all her time writing her novel manuscript A Warrioress’ Journey, and she kept trying to get him to read what she had just written. He practically had to threaten to go back on his word of editing it before she reluctantly promised to study instead of spending all her time writing. Why am I in charge of those two’s academic careers? he wondered. He wasn’t even that good at academics.

“Good thing those two are sort of normal” he muttered to himself, looking at Bekah and Jordan. As he scanned her, his eyes met Bekah’s. She smiled her genuine smile as he looked away, embarrassed. But those two looked like, well, what two college students on the night before finals should look like: focused and just a bit stressed.

“Hey, this is boring,” whined Annette, leaning far back in Cam’s chair. “We should all go out and do something f-u-n.”

“F-u-n,” muttered Dinah in a daze. “Function of U to the power of N. First take the derivative…” She dove back into a section of her notes with a crazy look in her eye.

“Um, Dinah, that wasn’t a review question,” Cam tried to reassure her, but the girl didn’t notice.

“Annette, are you sure you don’t need to study?” Bekah asked worriedly. “I know you are confident, but I worry you’ve been tempted to cockiness about this.”

“I’m fine,” Annette reassured her. “All my tests this semester are multiple-choice. I can figure out the correct answer from the pattern of questions and order of the options.”

“That’s an impressive superpower,” Jordan offered without looking up from his book.

“I think so. I’ve never gotten worse than a 98 on a multiple-choice test before.”

Bekah still looked worried, but any further questioning was forestalled by Dinah falling out of her seat. “Dinah!” Cam exclaimed, rushing to her. He was worried something was wrong, but she had just passed out and was now fast asleep, snoring gently.

“The poor girl must be exhausted,” Bekah said. As Cam gently picked Dinah up, Bekah continued “look at the time. It’s late for all of us. Losing sleep won’t do any of us good.” Ella and Annette agreed. “Oh! But before we leave, let me pray for all of us.” Cam couldn’t think of any objections and apparently neither could anyone else, so they all bowed their heads at Bekah’s lead. She offered a short but sweet prayer that all of them, asking that they all pass their tests.

After Bekah finished, Annette gently picked up the still-sleeping Dinah. “I’ll drive Sleeping Beauty here home,” she offered.

Surprised, Cam said “I don’t mind doing it.”

“Cam, if that girl woke up to find you carrying her, she’d have an actual heart attack.” Cam was confused, but Annette leaned Dinah against her shoulder and helped her sleepily walk into the night. Bekah and Ella also bid their goodbyes. Cam had planned to study a bit more, but as soon as the room was empty of everyone but himself and Jordan, exhaustion hit him.

“Take it easy, man,” Jordan said. “You’ve been studying too, as well as keeping those girls on track. Get to bed.” Cam could not protest. After taking a very short shower, he collapsed into bed.

At Sunview University, final exams took place over three and a half days. Each class had a different time, but generally tests ran all day Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and half a day Thursday. Students had to move out of their dorms by Sunday evening.

As expected, Cam and the rest spent those three and a half days in a semi-frantic state of constant, simmering panic. Cam didn’t get to see the others at all during that time. He was too preoccupied with the unfortunate realization that his grade point average this semester would probably the lowest he had ever gotten. All that time spent preparing D&M, helping Dinah, and going to bed early to get up early to train with Ella will do that to a guy he realized after walking out of a particularly unfortunate science final. He felt he had gotten at least half the problems right. If he was lucky.

Still, that had been his final final. And with the way Sunview scheduled things, he knew everyone on campus was finished now as well. As he stepped out into the warm California Thursday evening, he stretched up to the sky. He absentmindedly took out his phone to text the girls, see what they wanted to do now that finals were over. He had halfway composed the message to send in the group when he froze. Why would I assume they want to spend their precious free time with this group? With me? Vaguely, he half-remembered mocking words, lunches spent alone, relationships that ended within days. Unpleasant memories from middle and high school. They had drilled instilled him with one piece of knowledge, however: nobody would want to spend their spare time with him.

Cam put his phone away and began walking toward his room. He had only taken a few steps when he felt his phone buzz. He took it out. It was a message from Bekah in the Sunview D&M Chat. It said: ‘Now that we are all finished, want to spend time together? Almost instantly, a reply came from Ella: ‘Yes! Cafeteria?’ Next chimed in Annette, agreeing that they should meet. Dinah sent a thumbs-up emoji.

“There you are,” Annette’s voice called from behind him. He turned to see her silhouetted in the late afternoon sun. “I’d be disappointed if my pupil of the detective arts wasn’t even observant enough to notice his own smartphone.”

“I don’t remember becoming your pupil,” Cam grumbled good-naturedly. Annette began walking in the direction of the cafeteria, but Cam still hesitated. Were those messages really meant for him, too? Surely the girls would have a better time without him dragging down the mood.

“Cam.” Annette’s voice cut through his gloom. “Surely you weren’t thinking of skipping, right?”

He came to his senses. “No, of course not.”

“Good.” She chuckled. “I’m running out of time to tease my favorite target, and it’s no fun if he’s all gloomy.” The two entered the cafeteria.

It was, predictably, packed with students celebrating the end of finals. The two picked up Dinah squeezed into one corner of the area, looking like she was in danger of being trampled by the mob. As it turned out, Ella already had a table that she had somehow kept free of other students. “I finished a while ago,” she explained. “Been here ever since.” The abundance of empty wrappers and bottles indicated that she had probably been eating the whole time. After another few minutes, Bekah, carrying a salad, emerged from the sea of people to join them.

Ella spoke. “Ahem. Now that we are all present, we can get down to business: properly celebrating the end of the semester!”

Bekah and Cam clapped politely. Annette said “speech, from our glorious leader!”

All eyes turned to Cam. “I’m the glorious leader?” When nobody objected, he shrugged. Standing up, he began, “friends, this has been a wonderful semester. We have gotten to know each other—”

“Too long!” Annette heckled. “Next!” She pointed to Dinah.

With bags under her eyes, Dinah did not look good, but at least she looked relieved. She half-stood. All she said in a whisper that barely carried through the din in the cafeteria was “the missions, the nightmares…they’re finally…over.” She sat down with a haunted look in her eyes and took a deep draught of her soda.

The conversation after that turned more normal. Talk and laughter pervaded the table. Annette was in the middle of imitating Ella’s exaggerated accent in D&M to much amusement when Bekah started. “I just remembered.” She looked fiercely at the table. “During winter break, I want all of you to go to church on Christmas. No excuses.”

“All right, Mom,” Cam replied. The rest mumbled something about trying their best, but the holiday season was always so busy, etc.

Ella, however, said, “that makes me think. What are you all going to do over the break?”

“I’m just going home,” Dinah said.

“Me too,” Cam also said. “No plans, really.”

“I’d take any excuse to not have to go home” Annette complained.

“I spend every holiday with my family, especially Hanukkah,” Bekah explained, although there was a worried look in her eyes. Recalling what she had told him about her family situation, how she was a different religion from her parents, Cam understood her concern.

Ella said “the reason I ask is track team still has to train, so I’ll be here most of the break. My housing building is being remodeled over the break though, so I have to find somewhere else to live. I wanted to see if any of you want to room together.”

Dinah volunteered “my home is only 10 minutes away from campus. Mom always tells me I can bring any friends home any time for as long as I want. Not that I’ve ever had the opportunity to do so before…”

“That would be great! Thanks, Dinah,” Ella said.

With her signature devious smile, Annette spoke up. “That gives me an idea.”

“Oh no,” interjected Cam and Dinah at the same time.

“Since most of us don’t have any major plans, why don’t we all spend some time this break at Dinah’s? Assuming that’s all right with you and your folks.”

Everyone needed some time to contemplate that one. “If I’ll be there already, the more the merrier, I guess,” Ella eventually said.

“Like I said, I can’t,” Bekah explained. She looked wistful. “That does sound like a lovely time, though. I’ll be thinking of you all…”

“Yeah, I guess that’d be fun,” Cam said. “I mean, only if your parents are fine with so many people staying there.”

“They will be!” Dinah said. She looked more excited than Cam could remember her in a while. “I’ll call right now!” True to her word, she dialed someone on her smartphone. Cam had no idea how she could hear anything through the racket in the cafeteria, but after a short conversation, she hung up with a huge smile. “They said yes!”

Everyone sans Bekah had their phones out to text or call family members to inform them of the arrangement. Cam sent his parents a text, but they didn’t reply immediately. He gazed idly into the crowd. That meant he and Annette spotted the pair of people at the same time: Jordan and, Cam noticed with discomfort, his ex Cindi. The two were talking and laughing together, but they both caught sight of Cam and the girls’ table. Annette enthusiastically waved them over.

Jordan sat down at the empty spot to Cam’s right, and Cindi pulled a nearby chair next to Jordan. Greetings were exchanged, and introductions for those who had not met Cindi before. She fitted into the general conversation naturally, much to Cam’s disquiet. His glares at her must have been obvious because Jordan leaned in to speak to him quietly. “Dude, you’ve got to drop this grudge or whatever it is,” he said. “So you used to date Cindi but you don’t anymore. Big whoop. She’s a nice person, so why don’t you try to get along?”

“How do you know her?” Cam hissed.

“We met at one point while you dated. We became friends then.”

“How has this never come up!”

“You never asked.” Jordan laughed appropriately at a joke that had apparently been told, although Cam hadn’t paid attention. “Give it a try.” He allowed himself to be drawn back into the general conversation.

Cam was not interested in doing so, so he was spacing out when something caught his attention quickly. “I think that’s a great idea! What about you, Cam?” Bekah was asking.


“Like Dinah suggested, as long as we’re all here, why don’t we do a session of D&M?” She looked earnest, as usual. “I have a picture of my character sheet on my phone and an app that can roll dice. So does everyone else.”

“Uh…” In theory, he could improvise something. He didn’t have any of his notes, but he didn’t really need them, since he knew approximately where the story was going next, and DM’ing was 90% improv anyway. He had only one major concern. He looked at Cindi, who like the rest of them was looking at him expectantly.

Bekah seemed to misinterpret. “Oh, you’ll let Cindi and Jordan play this one time too, right?”

“Well, Cindi doesn’t have a character…”

“What level?” Cindi asked.


“What level is the party at? I’ve built a bunch of characters for each level.” She smiled and looked down in embarrassment. “I’m a huge D&M fangirl, but I don’t have a group to play with. So I make all these characters who’ll never get played.”

“Why didn’t you bring up that you like D&M when we dated?” Cam asked.

“Why didn’t you?” She smiled to show that she meant no hostility by the question.

“Because, well, no reason.” The real reason was a series of unpleasant memories about trying to get others into his hobby. They had all been unsuccessful. His repeated efforts had even contributed to the destruction of relationships.

Bekah laid her hands on Cam’s arm. “You don’t have to push yourself. We know you haven’t had any time to prepare.”

How can I say no when you look at me like that? Cam thought in despair. He selfishly wanted to say no, just because Cindi was there. Jordan gave him a look that seemed to say, “give it a try.” With all the faces looking at him expectantly, Cam just didn’t have the heart to turn them down. “Oh, all right,” he said, causing a general look of relief around the table. He leaned forward. “Cindi, the party is at level 8.”

“Got it!” she said, looking at something on her phone. “Solnia IV the dragonkin scholar-bard is ready.”

“Sounds good.” Cam took a deep breath. “Previously, in search of a lead to the assassin of two kings, the Sunviewers discovered something curious in the recent upswing of undead attacks…”