Chapter 28:

Blue Sky Christmas III


December 19, 2022 AD. Dyson Household, California, USA, Earth

The five quickly adjusted to their temporary new life in Dinah’s home. Her parents and sister were extremely gracious hosts, cooking every meal and never complaining when Annette left dirty socks lying around. Still, an extra 4 people to feed was clearly a burden for the family, who Cam sensed were not extraordinarily wealthy. Cam didn’t need Annette’s sleuthing to figure that out. To make up for it, he got a part-time job at a nearby department store. The work paid better than he expected, so after paying the “rent” he insisted on giving to the family, Cam had saved up several hundred dollars.

Dinah, too, worked a part time job, although for a different reason. As Cam had feared, she hadn’t done well in her exams. As a result, she lost some of her scholarship money. “But it’s ok,” she insisted one evening. “I can earn the difference over the break.” Despite her generally poor performance, Cam felt a stab of pride when she told him that Calculus had been her best grade. A B-, but still, her best.

Ella, as promised, spent much of her break time on Sunview campus, training. Cam still joined her on her morning jogs, though. She also spent a lot of time writing her novel The Warrioress’s Journey, which Cam spent a very large amount of free time editing and revising. Although the writing was still painfully bad and the plot was still nearly nonsensical, Cam was starting to enjoy his work on it. It felt good to take a piece of pungent literary trash and transform it into not-quite-so-smelly trash. Not that he ever told Ella his true feelings on the work. The two spent many long nights awake at Dinah’s dining room table, arguing amicably about some paragraph or another.

Of course, it was impossible to keep this a secret any longer, so Ella had reluctantly told the rest what she was doing. She still felt too self-conscious to let anyone other than Cam read it. Not that it mattered. Cam was pretty sure he had caught Annette in the act of reading something long on Ella’s laptop one afternoon, although he didn’t have proof. Cam didn’t even bother wondering how she knew Ella’s password; this was Annette. She could probably guess the password based on Ella’s shoe size or something. Or else she had just observed one time that Ella unlocked her computer, but Cam preferred the former option.

After the first day, Bekah seemed to get over her encounter with her parents. She was usually in high spirits, although Cam thought he saw her looking wistful at certain times when he was around. Bekah had decided to fill her days by helping out around the house by cooking and cleaning, meaning that Dinah’s mother often mentioned that the house hadn’t been this clean in years. Furthermore, Bekah was an excellent cook. Upon the first time tasting Bekah’s cooking, Dinah’s sister Ingrid had exclaimed that Bekah was premium wife material and jokingly (probably) proposed to her herself. Bekah, being Bekah, simply downplayed her cooking skills, saying she had learned it all from her mother.

Bekah had also reached a sort of truce with her parents. In a tense phone call that she had asked Cam to listen in on, Bekah’s parents agreed to let her stay at Dinah’s house for the rest of the break, although her father ominously said they would “revisit the status of our relationship later.” They also let her pick up some clothing and other personal items from her house. Cam had offered to take the day off of work to join her, but she insisted that she could do it. When he returned to Dinah’s house in that evening, Bekah was fine.

Finally, Annette sort of did everything. She watched TV, slept in, and read, but she also helped with the cooking and cleaning sometimes and even gave Cam some editing advice whenever Ella wasn’t around. Most interestingly, she often locked herself up in the bedroom in the middle of the day. This became very inconvenient whenever Cam needed something; since there were only two bedrooms, Cam had ended up in the guest room with Annette and Ella. The first time the door was locked in the middle of the day, he banged on the door, but Annette didn’t answer. He heard the sound of talking from the other side, though, so he assumed she was on the phone or something and just wanted privacy. After a few times, though, Cam became curious. He listened through the door, and it sounded like Annette was recording something, based on the way she would often repeat words or phrases. Cam suspected she was recording videos to upload to the internet, although he couldn’t find her channel.

With all of their various schedules, the group hadn’t yet found time to play a game of D&M. Cam was confident that they would get at least one session during the break, though. He really wanted to capitalize on the cliffhanger he had left before, and he had thought of a great way to deal with the fact that Jordan and Cindi were not around to play their characters who, in story, theoretically were still important.

One evening, about a week before Christmas day, everyone happened to be sitting around in the living room. Cam and Dinah were playing a video game together—Dinah had a sizable collection of fighting games—while Bekah and Annette watched, and Ella typed in her computer in the corner. Ingrid popped in and out, and Dinah’s parents were getting dinner with their friends.

After a round where he narrowly beat Dinah, Cam said “we should all do something fun together. The whole point of this break was to hang out, but we hardly see each other.”

Annette said “asking out four girls at once? You really are quite the player.”

“Yes, I try to be,” he replied sarcastically. “Anyone have any ideas what we should do?”

“The beach,” Ingrid said, sticking just her head in the room.

“What?” Cam asked.

“You ought to go to the beach.” Without explaining further, she retreated back into the kitchen.

Dinah said “we could, I suppose. The beach is just a 30 minute drive away.”

“Yeah!” Annette said, latching on to the idea. “Tomorrow’s a Tuesday, the one day Cam and Dinah both have off.” She quickly checked her phone. “The weather tomorrow will be a perfect 80 degrees.”

“I can blow off a half day of training for this,” Ella said.

Bekah added “I am free as well.” Dinah nodded.

“All right then,” Cam said. “Tomorrow. Beach day.”

Tuesday dawned with a perfect sunny day. Fortunately, Cam had packed his swim trunks, although he knew for a fact that Bekah had to borrow one from Ingrid, since she for some reason kept old swimsuits that were too small for her, making them correctly sized for Bekah. Ingrid herself, however, did not join them, for which Cam was thankful. Dealing with his four close friends was already enough, and Ingrid could be quite a handful.

Dinah took drove them in her car. The ride was full of chatter, mostly from Annette who seemed thrilled to see the sea, although everyone, even Dinah, was in high spirits. The beach was crowded, but not unreasonably so. After parking—Dinah grumbled at the whopping $35 parking fee—the five hurried down to the sand.

They had all worn their swimsuits under their clothes. Cam, of course, wore his simple black trunks. Annette, true to character, wore a skimpy bikini, which Cam was forced to compliment after Annette repeatedly all but shoved herself in his face, much to Dinah’s annoyance. Dinah wore a white one piece that matched her fair complexion. She seemed unhappy about it, though, and kept glancing at the others and Cam when she thought he wasn’t looking. Ella wore what looked like a sports top with short denim shorts, the kind of outfit Cam had seen her wear often during their morning runs during hot weather. Bekah was the greatest surprise. She wore a thin bikini almost as blatant as Annette’s, which seemed out of character for her. Cam barely remembered her ever wearing short sleeves or shorts, even when it was hot out, let alone something this revealing. Cam mentioned so as they all walked onto the sand. “I know it’s Ingrid’s suit, but I’m still surprised.”

Bekah blushed. “This was the most modest suit she had. I can’t believe some of the things she had!”

“Don’t worry. It looks good on you,” Cam said. It was true.

She blushed deeper. “Don’t say that! I shouldn’t wear something like this where boys can see me. It’s immodest.” After a brief pause she continued with a small smile. “Although…I don’t mind if it’s you.”

She must really trust me he decided. To distract from his embarrassment, he sprinted ahead into the water.

They all played in the water for a while. Of course, Ella was a fantastic swimmer, even though so far as Cam knew, she had never trained for it. Because of his incessant morning training, Cam was in good shape, which translated into tolerable swimming and running skills; better than he could ever remember being in the past. It felt good to not be self-conscious about his appearance, although, as he thought back, he decided his past embarrassments had more been a function of the people he was around, not his own state.

Dinah eventually got tired of playing in the water first and retreated to the beach. The cool temperature reminded Cam that despite the sunny day, it was still technically December, not the summer. Cam joined Dinah on the sand, wrapping a beach towel casually around his shoulders. For a while, the two watched the remaining three in the water, although Cam couldn’t help but notice that Dinah snuck several glances at his bare torso. After one of these occasions, he locked eyes with her, causing her to squeak and look away. Cam grinned in response; yeah, working out every morning for months had its benefits.

The sun reflecting off her wet white swimsuit reminded Cam of something. He tapped Dinah on the shoulder with a sunscreen bottle. “Here. I didn’t see you apply earlier, but better late than never.”

“Ok, Mom,” she complained, but dutifully rubbed the sunscreen over her body. After a moment, she hesitated, looking at Cam. As he looked at her expectantly, she stuttered out “w-would you d-do my b-back?”

“Sure.” Cam rubbed the lotion across the exposed parts of her back. Her skin was smooth to the touch, and surprisingly cool.

“I hate this,” Dinah said suddenly.

“Oh, sorry. Am I being too rough?”

“Not that.” She gestured vaguely at herself. “This. I can’t compete with any of them. Annette’s gorgeous, and Ella is so tall, and Bekah has that figure and that chest. I’m just me. Blah me.”

Cam, don’t screw this up. Remember your training from all those sucky relationships. When a girl says she doesn’t like the way she looks, you compliment her a lot. “That’s right,” Cam said, somehow totally disregarding his own advice. Idiot!!! his inner monologue scolded him. What are you saying? Do you want to get slapped in the face? This is how you get slapped in the face. “What I meant was,” Cam hastened to clarify, “that you’re you. How you look matters, sure, but what matters more is who you are. If you looked like Annette, or Ella, or Bekah, you wouldn’t be the person we all care about. You know?” There, that sounded pseudo-profound enough, Cam reassured himself.

Dinah seemed to accept it. “Thank you,” she said with a smile. She looked like she was about to say more, but at that moment Annette plopped herself right in front of Cam.

“I saw that you were putting sunscreen on people,” Annette said. “I didn’t want to miss my turn.”

“Annette, I know for a fact that you put on sunscreen before we left.”

“Well, maybe I need a new layer,” she said coyly.

Cam sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine. Turn around.”

Bekah also appeared. “Me, too, Cam!” Ella, who had also just caught up, requested it as well. Shaking his head, Cam dutifully helped all three girls.

Afterword, Ella somehow talked him into a game of three-on-two volleyball, with Cam and Bekah versus Ella, Annette, and Dinah. Cam didn’t have time to protest the fact that he was teamed with the shortest person, with one fewer person, against the trained athlete. Predictably, he and Bekah lost terribly.

When the sun began to set, Bekah suggested leaving. Ella wanted to stay longer, but she was overruled by the tired other four. They didn’t talk much on the drive home; Bekah even fell asleep even though it was barely 5:30. They arrived home to find that Dinah’s mother had prepared them all a large fancy dinner, which all five devoured.

After food was eaten and they sat at the table for coffee and dessert—apparently a tradition in this family—Ella suggested they have a session of D&M. Cam was game, but he would have thought that everyone else was too tired. To his surprise, they all seemed to find a second reserve of energy at the thought of playing. Ingrid and Dinah’s mother both said they were interested in how exactly the game played and asked to stay and watch. As the DM, Cam gave the approval for the audience, although as soon as he saw Dinah’s murderous expression, he regretted it. Still, he couldn’t think of a reason to retract his invitation right after giving it, and Dinah didn’t verbally protest.

With Annette, Bekah, Dinah, and Ella gathered around the table with him, while the two guests sat a little way away, Cam took a deep breath to begin. “Previously, as your new allies Jorgun and Solnia IV fought the shadow assassin, you began to investigate the burning house for clues about the undead attacks on the city…”