Chapter 32:

The Warrior and the Editor


January 13, 2023 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth

Cam sat in his room, brooding. The first two weeks of the spring semester had finished, and he had barely seen any friends other than Jordan in the time. Apparently, Dinah was extremely busy. She had lost a large portion of her scholarship because of her poor grades the previous semester. This meant that on top of her normal class and homework schedule, she worked almost 20 hours a week as a barista at a nearby coffee shop during evenings and weekends.

Things had understandably been awkward between the two of them since her spectacular love confession at the end of the break. Cam wanted to use D&M as an excuse to see her in person to work things out—although he had no idea what he would actually say—but she constantly cited her schedule as a reason that she could not attend a D&M session.

“Why do I think she’s just making excuses at this point?” Cam moaned melodramatically, putting his head on his desk.

“If that’s what you think, then she probably is,” Jordan said unsympathetically. “You know her pretty well.”

“Then how am I going to talk to her? I can hardly tell her to not stop working.”

Jordan shrugged. “Maybe just tell her, flat out, that you want to talk to her.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because…” Cam knew exactly why not, but he certainly did not want to admit to himself that he was just being indecisive with understanding his own feelings. Give me something to distract Jordan, he begged whatever gods of confusing romance existed.

At that moment, as if in response to his pleas, somebody pounded on the dorm room. Jordan answered it. “Hey, Ella,” he said. “What’s up?” At that, Cam whipped around to see Ella standing—was that a skirt? In all the time he had known her, Cam had never seen Ella wear a skirt. It looked quite nice on her, highlighting her long legs.

Ella looked past Jordan as if he wasn’t there. “Cam, we need to talk.”

“Oh boy, here it goes,” muttered Jordan. He walked outside, letting Ella in. “Best of luck.” Before Cam could protest, he shut the door, leaving Cam and Ella alone.

Cam stood up. “What do you want to talk about, Ella?” he asked. “Is it about the book?” Although the two of them had still done their daily morning workout, they hadn’t gotten many chances to work on Ella’s manuscript.


“O-kay. Then what’s up?”

Ella seemed to be struggling to get the words out, but when she finally spoke, she sounded almost businesslike. “Cam. Do you remember that day when I told you that I hate romantic comedies and that if I every fell for a guy, I’d tell him right away?”

Cam’s mind went a mile a minute. No way. Is she really about to tell me that she’s fallen in love with Jordan? I know they get along great, but he has a girlfriend. Why would she talk to me? What does she think I can do? Out loud, all he said was “yes.”

Ella took another deep breath. She smacked herself on her cheeks with both hands, as if to psyche herself up. “I’m going to follow my own advice. Cam, I’ve fallen for you.”

…does she think I will break up Jordan’s relationship— what she said finally registered. “You like…me?”

“And if you like me back, please tell me.” She spoke very quickly, like she had memorized what she was going to say.

Faced with the second girl who had confessed her feelings for him in as many weeks, Cam was still unprepared. He didn’t have the time to think of a convenient deflection with Ella was staring at him, waiting for a response, so he decided to just tell the truth. “Ella, I don’t know how I feel. Everything is all muddled up now, so I—”

“You don’t have to be coy. I know you’re attracted to me. We can have sex if you want.” She spoke even faster, as if she had scripted this part, too. She quickly began pulling off her top, revealing a sports bra underneath. It was no more revealing that what she wore during their workouts when it was hot out, but in this context, it took on a totally different meaning, one that Cam was not at all ready for.

Cam closed his eyes. “Woah! Please, do not start taking off your clothes when I’m not prepared. Once was more than enough for my college years.” He tried to still his beating heart by taking several deep breaths.

Cam’s pronouncement seemed to go far enough off script that Ella paused. She made a rustling noise that he interpreted as her putting her shirt back on. He opened his eyes to see that his analysis had been correct, as her shirt was now fully on, highlighting her oddly disappointed expression. Ella said, in much more authentic tone and cadence, “I really do like you, Cam.”

She was waiting for an answer he didn’t have, so instead Cam said “you could have just said that. You didn’t need to ask Annette for advice.”

Ella looked shocked. “How did you know?”

Cam snorted. “Please. A rehearsed confession? Immediately jumping to seduction? That’s not you at all. It is Annette’s trademark, though.”

Ella actually blushed. “I’m not good with this stuff, all right? When you’re starting a new sport you’re bad at, there’s nothing wrong with asking for advice from someone who’s good at it.” When Cam laughed at the absurdity of this statement, she stamped her foot. “Argh! This is why I hate romantic comedies!”

“You know the book you’re writing is kind of a romantic comedy, right?”

“That doesn’t count!” She huffily stomped out of the room. “I still like you!” she called over her shoulder as she slammed the door on her way out.

Cam didn’t follow her. Now that she was gone, the levity seemed to vanish as well. He lay down heavily on his bed, staring up at his D&M poster. He wondered what the warrior with the glowing sword thought about as he fought the dragon. Did he previously have a lover in the city in the background before the dragon reduced it to smoking ruins? Or was he simply all business: he fought the dragon because his job was to fight dragons. Actually, it’s neither, Cam realized. He’s just a construct created by an ordinary person in our world. A person like me. That means he, or rather the player controlling him, is thinking about whatever the player is thinking about. So all this mean is that he’s not so different from me? Where was I going with this metaphor? He was giving himself an existential headache, so he picked up his phone to dial Jordan.

His friend picked up on the first ring. “You can come back,” Cam said. “Ella left.”

“You finished that quickly, huh? There’s no way you satisfied her that quickly.”

“Keep making stupid jokes like that and I’ll lock you out.” Cam hung up. He sat in bed until Jordan returned, still looking a bit miffed. Jordan asked what had happened. Glad to get it off his chest, narrated his short, odd, somewhat humorous encounter with Ella.

When Cam finished, Jordan shook his head. “I told you this would happen.”

“I know,” Cam said unhappily.

“I told you all those months ago: ‘Cam, you better make a decision now, before things get complicated.’ Guess what? Things got complicated.”

“I know,” he said again. “You don’t have to rub it in. Why do you have to be right about everything?”

“Because I’m the cool mature one and you’re the loser who can’t make up his mind, that’s why.”

“Ouch.” But true.

“Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to get some work done,” Jordan said, deliberately opening a textbook and putting on headphones. Cam got the message loud and clear: Jordan did not want to involve himself with Cam’s drama any more tonight.

Cam had no more homework to do, so he spent a while playing video games. He considered attempting to hang out with Annette in the same building, but for some reason he couldn’t take the idea of her laughing at him tonight. It was strange: he didn’t normally mind when she teased him, but the idea of her laughing at the script she had prepared for Ella and asking why he hadn’t responded put him on edge.

Instead, he spent more time on his phone, texting each of the four girls, trying to schedule a game of D&M. From the sound of it, Bekah and Annette were pretty free this early in the semester, and because there wasn’t a big competition for a while, Ella’s training schedule would be more relaxed than usual in the next few weeks. The problem remained Dinah. She was at work, so he was surprised that she was able to respond at all, but the short messages she sent were grim.

Im busy basically 24/7 she sent.

Not a single day off?

I need them for homework. Btw can you keep tutoring me?

Sure if you want, he wrote back. How about a holiday for D&M?

She didn’t respond for a long time. He was beginning to think that she was away from her phone when the text came through. It said President’s day. Owner’s super patriotic so he closes shop that day.

Cam considered. Because it technically was a holiday, Sunview university took the day off of classes on President’s Day. If Dinah didn’t have to work that day, that made it the perfect time for a session of D&M. Still, Cam was a bit disappointed: President’s Day this year took place on February 20th, over a month away. It’ll have to do, he decided.

Cam texted Dinah a thumbs up emoji, then alerted the game group chat of the chosen date. One by one, all the others agreed on a session on February 20th at 1pm. Jordan confirmed that, if Cam was willing, he too would be free that day and would like to join the session. Cam told him that of course he could join.

Sounds like everyone can make it, Cam texted. If all goes well, we can wrap up the story on that day. As he set the phone on his desk, he repeated to himself “wrap up the story.”