Chapter 35:

The Rogue and the Straight Man


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

Annette stood at the edge of the streetlight’s illumination, arms crossed. She was wearing a pure black dress with no sleeves, no back, and a neckline that left very little to the imagination.

Running forward, Bekah said “Annette? What are you doing out here?” Her tone sounded more curious than angry at being interrupted.

“I’d also like to hear the answer to that,” Cam said, sounding distinctly more upset.

“Ella and Dinah are looking for you,” Annette replied to Cam. “I’ve kept them off your tail tonight as much as possible, but I don’t think I can keep distracting them forever if you stay in one place.”

“Off our—wait, have you been stalking us this whole time?” Cam said in outrage as Bekah looked on in confusion.

“Think of it like counter-intelligence. I did this as a favor to you. Did you really want Dinah or Ella to see you two like this?”

“Dinah? Ella?” Bekah interjected. “I’m sorry, Annette, but I don’t understand.”

“Allow me to explain, girl to girl,” Annette said. She stood closer to Bekah and whispered in her ear for several seconds. As she spoke, Bekah looked more and more flustered.

When Annette was done, Bekah frantically looked back at Cam. “So Dinah…and Ella…oh my, Cam, I didn’t know…that they had already…oh, I’ve just made things more complicated, haven’t I?” Before Cam could stop her, she ran off in the opposite direction of the cafeteria, shouting “I’m sorryyyyy!” She disappeared into the night

Cam rounded on Annette. “Great. Thanks a bunch.”

“You are very welcome.”

“I was being sarcastic!” He heavily sat back down on the wall.

Annette sat next to him. Cam had no idea how she wasn’t popping out of her dress at all times. “My, you seem stressed. Maybe we can go somewhere private where I can help you relieve some of that?”

“Cut it out, Annette. I’m not in the mood for your twisted sense of humor.”

“I thought the whole point of this farce with asking Cindi to go with you was to avoid situations like this, where two of B D and E get jealous when you pick the third. If you ask me, I just did you a favor.”

“That was the point originally, but things got complicated.”

“When do they not.” They sat there in silence for a while, Annette looking at her phone while Cam just brooded. From inside the makeshift ballroom came the sound of the loudspeaker announcing the next SBVDDCFTD winner. Two more people Cam had never heard of.

“It’s rigged, you know,” Annette said.


“The prize thing. The four people they’ve announced so far aren’t real students.”

“How do you know that?”

She brandished her phone. “Every Sunview student is given a student email with the exact same template: first name dot last name at Sunview dot edu. I just checked, and nobody with any of those names has a proper Sunview email address. I bet the Sunview Student Activity Board dreamed up this little stunt to raise attendance on their next event but couldn’t get administration to sign off on actually giving out the prize, so they just gave it to imaginary students. Geeze, the SSAB is dumb. People are going to figure this out pretty quick.”

“So this whole night was a bust,” Cam said. “That seems about right.”

“If you enjoyed yourself at the party, it couldn’t have been all that bad.”

Now that the announcement was over, the sound of music spilled out of the building into the night. They hadn’t heard music before, meaning that somebody inside, whether on purpose or not, had pumped up the sound even louder. This seemed to give Annette an idea. She sprang down from the wall, curtsying. “If you’re not satisfied with your night, why not have one final dance with this lovely lass before Dinah or Ella get suspicious? And don’t pretend that you can’t or won’t dance. I saw you having a great time with Bekah in there.”

Cam rolled his eyes but hopped down as well. To meet the curtsy, he gave an old-fashioned bow. “May I have the honor of this dance, Madame Sherlock?”

“You certainly may, my dear Watson.”

The DJ inside was playing a fast but old-fashioned musical number. Soon, Cam became lost in trying to keep up with Annette’s rapid movements as she moved and spun. Annette was a good dancer, too, although dancing with her was a totally different sensation than with Bekah. With the latter, Cam had felt like she gently taught him one step at a time, letting him feel like he was leading even when she was helping to guide his movements. Annette was totally different. She moved at her own frenetic pace, not making any allowances for Cam’s inexperience but expecting him to learn on the fly, and if he failed, well, that was his fault. He did do pretty well, though, or at least he didn’t totally embarrass himself. Soon, both were panting from the exertion.

“You’re a pretty good dancer,” Cam wheezed out.

“I’m a girl of many skills,” she panted back. They kept going for six more songs, each increasing in speed and intensity—Cam thought the DJ must be playing the last song at double speed. Finally, the set came to and end, and both Cam and Annette broke apart, breathing heavily. Although Cam wanted to stay put and rest, Annette suggested that the two take a walk to cool down and shake any potential tails from Dinah or Ella. Cam agreed. Fortunately, the night was quite warm for a February, meaning that Annette was in no danger of freezing in her skimpy dress.

“I hope the others are having a good time,” Cam said. “Who did they all go with, anyway?”

“Ella picked some random guy on the men’s track team and ditched him immediately. And you don’t have to worry about Dinah’s partner stealing her heart away.”

“Oh? Why’s that?”

Annette stopped and bowed. “Because, out of an act of true friendship, I agreed to go to the ball with Dinah. After you so rudely turned her down, I couldn’t convince her to pick anyone else, so I volunteered myself.”

“Ah, I see, you really do swing that way, congratulations, congratulations,” Cam said dryly.

She laughed. “You know, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to call my sense of humor twisted when you apparently make the same exact type of jokes?”

“You’ve rubbed off on me.”

She now smiled fondly. “Haven’t we all rubbed off on each other?” She stopped walking. “We’re here.”

“Where?” Cam said. They had paused at a seemingly ordinary looking gap between buildings with a slight view of the city below, although there were a dozen other places on campus that provided the same view but better.

“At this school, there is a legend. If a guy and a girl kiss in this spot at nighttime on the week before Valentine’s Day, they will be together forever.”

“Huh. There really is a legend like that?”

“No, of course not. I just made it up right now. Don’t be so gullible, Cam.” She laughed at him.

Normally, Cam would just accept that Annette had made another successful joke at his expense, but today was different. He was in a weird mood, likely from the emotional rollercoaster of the night. The hunger also probably didn’t help. So as Annette was laughing at him, he said “want to test it?”


“Test the legend. See if it’s true.”

“You heard me when I said I just made it up, right?”

“Hey, there’s only one way to find out if it works or not.” He winked. It was not a particularly subtle wink, but the low lighting made up for it.

In response, Annette dropped her eyes, seeming truly embarrassed. She said something, but he couldn’t hear it.

“What was that?” Cam asked, leaning in closer.

She attempted her usual Annette teasing grin, but even in the dark, it looked forced. “A young man shouldn’t listen in on a lady’s private conversation.”

“Uh, I’m the only one here to have a conversation with…”

She smiled. “You’re right. Now, for the test?”

“Um.” He hadn’t thought she’d actually go for it. “As friends, right?”

“Oh, as great friends. Come here.” It was too late to back out now. They kissed very lightly in the shadow, breaking apart almost immediately. Annette immediately looked away and touched her mouth, seeming uncharacteristically shy.

As Cam confusedly watched her fidget, he was reminded of something she had said just a moment ago. Haven’t we all rubbed off on each other? It was true. At the very least, Cam on occasion tried to imitate Annette’s way of unerringly reading people or situations. He wasn’t as good at it as her, but he decided to try anyway. He glanced her up and down, taking into consideration their relationship as a whole, the recent conversation, and her current nervous attitude.

The answer was obvious. I should have guessed from the start, he realized. As gently as he could, he said “Annette. It’s not good to bottle up your emotions. You can express what you really want.”

“Wh-what?” she stammered. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She laughed extremely nervously, but it died out as Cam continued to gaze levelly at her. “Ah, man. And I’m supposed to be the one who’s good with boys, too.” She put her hands over her chest in an extremely uncharacteristic display of modesty. “You’ve figured me out, Watson. I-I guess I don’t have to tell you.”

“You should still say it out loud.”

“You’re so mean to me.” After one more furtive look down the alleyway, she continued “you know my history with guys. It’s not like I’m unexperienced. Quite the opposite, really. But, well—God, this sounds cliché as hell—but I’ve never felt like this before. Those other guys, well, being with them was fun in a certain way, but this is, this feels like something else.” She looked at him with the most genuine face she had ever made. “Cam, is this what real love feels like?”

“Annette…” he reached out one hand. She tremblingly reached out one of hers. As the two were about to touch—

“Ouch!” Cam cried out in pain as Annette had pinched his wrist.

“Gotcha,” Annette said, her normal teasing smile plastered across her face once again. She turned around and began walking back in the direction of the cafeteria. “I told you not to be so gullible. Come on, they’ll be announcing the third winning couple soon. Wouldn’t want to miss on what names the creative gigabrains in the SSAB come up with for this fictional pair.”

Despite her flippant attitude, she walked on ahead quickly. “Annette!” Cam called out as she walked away. She turned around but continued walking backward. “Are you sure it was just a joke?”

Cam had difficulty interpreting Annette’s expression in the darkness, but he was fairly confident she was happy. She turned and went back to walking normally. “How about I leave that for you to decide?” she said.

The two arrived at the entrance to the cafeteria just as the loudspeaker was saying “…and that concludes the third and final drawing. Congratulations to all six of our lucky winners of the Saturday Before Valentine’s Day Dance Couple’s Free Tuition Drawing! But everyone, don’t leave yet! There’s still plenty of party to—” whatever the person on the loudspeaker was attempting to say was drowned out by a stampede of Sunview students exiting the cafeteria, looking mostly angry and unsatisfied. Cam and Annette had to get out of the way to avoid being trampled. The cafeteria was almost fully depopulated within a few minutes.

In the flow of people Cam spotted Bekah, Dinah, and Ella in a group. In the last minutes Annette had slipped away from him and joined the group individually, pretending she hadn’t been with Cam the whole time, an action Cam was grateful for. The five fell into line leaving the dance behind.

“That was a terrible party,” Ella said.

“Awful,” agreed Dinah.

“I’m starving,” Cam added. “Anyone want to grab something to eat?”

“Oh, is Half-Plate Burgers open at this time?” Bekah eagerly said.

“It’s a Saturday night, so they’re open until midnight,” said Annette, checking her phone. “We don’t have time to change, but we can make it.”

“Great, let’s go,” Cam said. “I’ll drive.” Together, as they began a quest for food, the five left the dregs of the bizarre party behind for good.