Chapter 34:

The Cleric and the Inspiration


February 11, 2023 AD. Sunview University, California, USA, Earth

The first thing Cam felt as he stepped into the newly created dance hall was the buffeting sensation of sound. Music, talk, laughter—the noise of a large group of people shoved into a small space, the distinct sounds melding together to create an overwhelming cacophony of people having a great time. Cam hated it.

To distract himself, he read one of the many flyers strewn around the room, giving information about the event. It informed him that the drawing for the free tuition would occur at some random point of the night before 11pm, emphasized that only couples who had checked in at the registration table were eligible, and that the couple would have to be there in person to receive the prize. Cam and Cindi had check in as ordered at the beginning, but as he checked his phone, he saw it was still only 5:15.

“This must be half the student body,” Cindi said, nodding at the throng of people. Although it wasn’t actually that loud, she still shouted. It just seemed appropriate. “Do you want to dance?”

Cam tried not to panic. Somehow, he had never considered the fact that going to a dance would, in fact, involve dancing. He had theoretically learned to dance a long time ago, and he was confident in his stamina from his training. Still, his dance skills were rusty at best and totally hypothetical at worst, meaning that really dancing with a real girl was a daunting task. To stall for time, he shouted back “let’s get something to eat.” Cindi nodded, and the two made their way to the food table.

There was no food on the food table. Apparently, whoever had planned this event had not expected this many people, meaning that even though Cam and Cindi had arrived on time, the food had been entirely eaten up and the punch bowl totally drained. Surrounding this barren wasteland was a large group of students hungrily eyeing the nearby entrances in hopes of more food being served. Optimistically, Cam circled the table, but no new food magically appeared, and the cacophony began to weigh on his nerves. “Bathroom,” he yelled through the din to Cindi. He wasn’t certain that she heard him, but he ducked out of the main room anyway.

Cam was able to walk straight into the men’s room, although he did notice the long line out of the women’s room. The toilet provided a few moments’ peace. Cam locked himself in one of the stalls and took some time to recenter himself, looking at a few D&M memes on his phone as a relaxation tool. It’s fine, Cam. Just have to hold out for a few more hours until they announce the winner. I can leave after that. Actually, what kind of sadist came up with these arbitrary rules about couples and being there in person, anyway?

After taking one more minute, he braced himself to rejoin the main press of the converted cafeteria. He stepped out, looking around for Cindi. Although a part of him definitely wanted to ditch her, he felt guilty about that part, realizing that that would be a pretty scummy move. Instead of Cindi, however, the first person he spotted—by nearly running her over—was Bekah.

She was dressed in a pure white dress that flowed across her entire body, covering every inch of her except for her hands and her head. She looked flustered about something. “Hey, Bekah,” Cam said. “You look good. How is—woah!” The latter exclamation occurred because Bekah seized his arm and dragged him into the thick of the party.

“We have to dance,” she said worriedly. “We can’t let him find me.”

“All right,” Cam said, ignoring his previous fears and allowing himself to be led in the direction of the mass of swaying bodies and poorly DJ’d music that could pass as a dance floor. He hadn’t learned to dance in the last 10 minutes since Cindi had asked him, but he felt far more comfortable failing in front of the gentle Bekah than he did in front of his ex-maybe-not-just-an-ex-anymore Cindi. He did feel a slight twinge of guilt about ditching Cindi, but he assured himself that she would have been bored spending the entire evening with him anyway.

When they reached something like the middle of the dance floor, guided by Bekah’s gentle hands, Cam awkwardly put one of his hands on Bekah’s waist and clasped one of her hands in his other. Because she was so short, he had to stoop over to accomplish the task, but it wasn’t too uncomfortable. They swayed together in time to the music for a little while. Bekah, it seemed, was an excellent dancer, while Cam just blessed the fact that he wore sneakers—he felt confident that if he had worn something heavier and hard-soled, he would have permanently damaged Bekah’s feet with the number of times he stepped on her toes.

For all that, however, it still should have been a pleasant experience. He was in good shape from the months of training, and he picked up the motions of the simple dance quite quickly. The only problem was the concerned expression on Bekah’s face. Cam wasn’t an expert by any means, but he was fairly confident that when ballroom dancing with a girl, if she kept frowning and looking over her shoulder in concern, something was amiss.

“Is something wrong?” he asked eventually. He had figured out the proper volume to shout to just be heard over the crowd without destroying his throat.

“Not exactly,” Bekah shouted back. As she checked over her shoulder again, she said “I’m just worried about Paul.”

That made Cam miss a beat. He nearly tripped over Bekah’s feet, only staying standing by balancing off the body of a large guy standing nearby. “Paul is here? Your church friend Paul?”

In response, she pointed to a truly horrendous sight. On the edge of the dance floor moved a massive man dressed in a gold and burgundy plaid shirt, blue denim suspenders, and a neon yellow tie. This man ‘danced’ by himself, although for him dancing seemed to involve careening violently into those nearby, slamming them to the ground with his large size. “He got into the punch bowl that had alcohol in it,” she said worriedly. “I know he’s never touched any alcoholic drink in his life. He has no tolerance.”

“Isn’t this event put on by the university? Should there even be alcohol in any of the drinks?”

“I don’t know. But he was a little…intimidating to me earlier. I left him he could cool off, but, well.” One of Paul’s more enthusiastic gyrations knocked a bunch of dancing couples down in a domino effect. Cam executed a complex spin move to avoid them.

“The bouncers will take care of him,” Cam said.

“I don’t think this event has security at all,” Bekah replied.

Not enough space, not enough food, booze in the punch that should not have it, no security. Somebody dropped the ball planning this party, Cam thought. I want to ignore him, but…he looked again at Bekah’s worried face. “Oh, all right. I’ll take care of it.” He detached himself from Bekah and began wading through the crowd of people. Bekah followed close behind.

He came to stand in front of the disgustingly dressed giant. “Hi, Paul, it’s me. C’mon, let’s get you out of here,” he yelled out.

With bloodshot eyes, Paul looked back at Cam. “Ey! Issa Kramer, Bekah’s frien from school. Hic. Wassup Kramer?”

Not even close to my name, Cam thought. Out loud, he said “right, yes, it is I, Kramer. Paul, I’m here to help you out. Let’s go.” He tried to drag Paul, but he might as well have tried to drag the wall. The alcohol had done nothing to impair the other man’s strength.

“Can’t go,” Paul slurred emphatically. “Gotta stay here. Gotta win a prize for Bekah’s friend. Diva, or Dinner, or something. Bekah said so.”

“Win a prize for Dinah?” Instantly, Cam was overcome with guilt. If anyone needed the free tuition, it was the struggling Dinah. Cam’s parents paid for the bulk of his education, whereas Dinah had to work herself to the bone to stay in school at all. The shame at his own selfishness made him redouble his attempts. “Yes, you’re going to win a very special prize, but you have to come with me. This way.” Cam grabbed one of the other man’s big hands and began dragging him to a small hallway that connected to the cafeteria area.

That seemed to convince Paul, who finally stopped spasming and obediently followed Cam, with Bekah trailing behind. It was unclear if Paul even noticed her at all. Cam led Paul into the hallway, where several other students lay around the floor, snoring peacefully. Apparently, they too had had too much of the booze punch.

Once away from the hubbub of the crowd, Paul seemed willing to pass out almost immediately. With the large man now safely snoring in the hallway, Cam and Bekah returned to the main area. They stood at the edge of the dance floor, awkwardly.

“Um, Cam? Would you like to keep dancing?”

“Hm?” Cam had just caught the eye of Cindi. She was dancing expertly with some guy Cam had never seen before. Cam felt a twinge of jealousy, although he stifled that immediately, realizing how hypocritical that would be. As their eyes met, Cindi halfway shrugged and gave Cam a look that indicated ‘I don’t mind if you don’t mind.’ This was a relief. Cindi had been less unpleasant than he had expected, but Cam would still much rather spend the evening with Bekah, and he assumed the same was true for Cindi and this other guy.

“Cam?” Bekah’s eyes followed Cam’s, and too late he realized it looked like he had been staring at Cindi.

He hastily looked back to Bekah. “Yeah, let’s dance more.”

As the two continued dancing, Bekah looked worriedly back at Cindi. “You came here with her, right? Should you talk to her?”

“It’s probably fine.” They danced for a little while longer. Cam thought he saw Ella in the crowd, but with so many people around he couldn’t be certain. Eventually, they decided to take a break. They managed to squeeze into a gap in the crowd along the edge of the room, where they leaned against the wall. Cam said “so, you invited Paul, huh.” Bekah nodded. “Not that it’s any of my business or anything, but I thought you said you weren’t interested in him in that way.”

“Oh, no, I am not!” she exclaimed. A more softly, she said “there’s already someone else.” The heat of the room must have gotten to her because her cheeks were flushed.

“Right. So why…”

She laughed a little. “Like Paul said, I wanted to win the free tuition for Dinah. Silly, right?”

“It’s not silly at all. But…why Paul?”

You were my first choice, Cam,” she said. “I really wanted to come to this event with you. But since you had already promised to go with someone else, I picked the only other man I knew who would be willing.”

“Right. Sorry about that.”

“No need to apologize.” They leaned there, content to sit in silence with each other until Bekah stood up straight and waved to someone in the crowd. “Dinah! Hi!”

Following Bekah’s gaze, Cam saw that Dinah was standing there with her arms crossed, surveying the two of them. She wore a slim blue dress that almost resembled a traditional Chinese qipao, although much more Americanized. She also had a matching blue ribbon holding her hair out of her face, meaning that this was one of the first time’s Cam had seen her entire face without her bangs getting in the way.

Cam was about to also invite her to hang out with them until he realized. I told her I promised to go with someone else, but I never clarified who. She must think I turned her down for Bekah! As if to confirm his suspicions, Dinah simply said “I wouldn’t want to interfere” before spinning on her heel and marching away.

“She seemed to be in a bad mood,” Bekah speculated. “I wonder if she doesn’t like this kind of event?”

“Or something like that.”

At that point, the music died out as the loudspeaker crackled to life. “Laaadies and geeentlemen!” an overenthusiastic voice from the loudspeaker cried. “It is time to announce the first of our lucky winners of the Saturday Before Valentine’s Day Dance Couple’s Free Tuition Drawing, or the SBVDDCFTD for short! Our first SBVDDCFTD winner is…Jane Fortuna and Jonny Simms! Jane and Jonny, please come to the registration desk to claim your prize! But for the rest of you, worry not! Don’t forget that we still have two more drawings coming up later tonight, so don’t leave just yet!” There was a light smattering of applause, but most people just seemed disappointed and got back to whatever they were doing before.

Bekah said “eh, guess nobody we know won this time.” She seemed preoccupied with something, constantly glancing at Cam before hurriedly looking away.

“Guess not.”

“Oh, I just remembered! I still need to read my daily Bible devotional for this evening. All this excitement nearly made me forget.” She stood up. “I’ll find someplace quiet.”

“Wow, you’re devout,” Cam said. “Want me to come with you?”

“You don’t have to. See you later!” She left. Cam watched her exit a small side door that he knew led outside.

As he watched, Cindi materialized out of the crowd and sat down next to him. “Fwew, I am exhausted,” she said, fanning herself. “Say, where’d that girl you were with go? Bekah, right?”

“She left a minute ago,” Cam said. “I think she wanted to be alone.”

“Seriously? She was totally into you! You should chase after her.”

“I highly doubt that. Wait, were you watching us?”

“She stands out with that pure white dress with those sleeves.”

“So where is your dance partner?”

“Fernando—the guy I met—is getting drinks.”

“I thought the party ran out of punch a while ago. Did they get a refill?”

“Nope. I sent him down to the nearest water fountain.”

“Ah.” Cindi seemed fine to continue to fan herself, but leaning against the wall in such close proximity to her put Cam on edge. “Hey, Cindi, I’m sorry. You asked me out and here I ditched you within half an hour.”

“Nah, don’t sweat it. I told you I’d be down to try things out between us again. We tried, but obviously you’ve got someone else now.” She patted him on the back. “Now go after her, Casanova!”

Cam felt a grin spreading across his face. He reached out his hand to shake. “Thanks. We can still be friends after all this, right?”

“Thought we already were.” She accepted his handshake. Her hand was sweaty, and she had a firm grip.

As Cam withdrew his hand, he said “geeze, I sort of regret making you the goblin queen now.”

“Wait, what do you mean by ‘goblin queen?’”

Time to go. “Well, I’d better go find Bekah.” Cam exited through the same door she had used a few minutes ago.

Several other people had apparently used the same exit to enjoy the cool night air, so there were multiple people wandering about, either singularly or in pairs. It was dark other than the streetlights, so Cam had to wander for a while before he found Bekah. Fortunately, her white dress stood out, meaning he found her sitting on the edge of a wall overlooking a spectacular view of the town at the bottom of the hill. She had her head bowed, but Cam realized that she was reading something by the light of the nearest streetlight. He sat down next to her, causing her to jump. “It’s me,” he reassured her.

“Thanks for coming,” she said quietly. “I didn’t really want to be alone tonight.”

“I know.” You’re a good guesser, Cindi. Silently but with a faint smile, she continued to read. The cool and quiet was nice after the heat and hubbub of the cafeteria. Still, after a few minutes, Cam asked “what are you reading?”

“The last chapter in Proverbs,” she answered. “Do you want me to read it to you?”


Bekah began reading from her small copy of the Bible. While her voice normally sounded nice enough, when reading this passage, she took on a sort of lilting melody somewhere between singing and chanting. “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

“Beautiful,” Cam said when she was finished reading.

In response, she laid her head on Cam’s shoulder. He stiffened but did not push her off. “Cam. I have prayed about this for a long time, and now I’m certain. I want…to be that kind of wife. For you.”

Cam didn’t want to speak, causing the moment to end. He didn’t know what to say as the silence stretched out.

“All right, that’s enough,” a voice said from the darkness. Cam and Bekah both sprang up, almost falling off the wall in surprise as a woman in a very low-cut black dress stepped into the light. It was Annette.