Cory spit out his soda in a manner Robynne could only remember seeing in cartoons and television shows. And just like in those shows, Cory’s spittake made a glancing blow off of Eli’s back. “Dude! The hell?”
“I’m sorry,” Cory apologized with disinterest. “But Rob… you serious? You’re joining the Cheer Squad? Like, school spirit, rah rah, Cheer Squad?”
Robynne crossed her arms and looked away. Cory was not making her feel good about this plan. “Well, if things go the way we think they will, I’ll just be on the Promotion Squad and I should be mostly getting out of that.”
Eli grumbled and hunted for a paper towel from the kitchen. “Can’t believe you actually spit on me.” Eli tore off a few segments off the roll and contorted oddly, trying to reach the wet spots on his back. “But, more to Cory’s point, this is more than a little shocking.”
Robynne shrugged. “I told you why I was doing it.”
“Yeah,” Eli acknowledged, “but even with all that it’s still a bit out of left field. I mean, you sure about this?”
Robynne frowned at the floor. “Of course I’m not sure ‘bout this. This is beyond stupid. But how else we supposed to go about this? Empress or not, this Cammy is dangerous. We have to do something to find out more.” Robynne glanced up with more hope in her eyes than she cared to admit. “I mean, unless either of you have some bright ideas that might work.”
Cory shook his head. “Sorry man, I got nothing. I mean, the case you lay out is… well. Bad. You’re right. You have to do something. I just didn’t expect you to be willing to do this. Even with how messed up what she did to Goldie was. Didn’t think you could impress me more Rob but… wow.”
Robynne let a disappointed sigh escape. “Thanks.”
Eli threw the used paper towels away. “Rob, I mean, it goes without saying, but we’re here for you. However… how many outlets of release will you actually have?” Eli’s face was overcome with guilt. Robynne really wished he’d stop blaming himself. “You sure you can handle this? I mean, I think you are amazing but…”
Cory coughed and hopped off of the small, rickety table he had been sitting on. “I think Rob will totally and completely own this!” Robynne worried the table would tip over but it somehow remained standing. The furniture at the guys’ dorms didn’t seem anywhere near as nice as the furniture the girls had. “By the end of this… um… whatever, it will be Cammy who is nervous about Robynne!”
Robynne rolled her eyes. Typical Cory bravado and hijinks to distract from an uncomfortable situation. “Thanks.”
“Besides,” Cory said with an exaggerated wave of his hand, “you’ll have Vivian’s help infiltrating this Cheer Cabal.” He then scratched his chin lecherously. “Meaning she will be wearing that cheer uniform from time to time.”
Robynne laughed while Eli buried his face in his hand. “You’re shameless.”
“Good thing too,” Cory said in agreement. “Helps balance out your shamefulness for not thinking about that to begin with. Though I suppose…” Robynne sat up straight as she felt a strong aura approach Cory and Eli’s door. The aura felt like smooth, varnished wood- it reminded her of her Grammy’s old, fancy mahogany dining room table that Uncle Taylor and Robert only used for Thanksgiving dinner.
As the lock on Cory and Eli’s door clicked, Robynne realized that this was yet another textured aura. How many of these things were going to appear? The door opened and Mr. Mahogany Aura strode in with a guitar case in his left hand. He filled out his tight, black t-shirt well, though not overly so. While it was clear that this guy worked out, he wasn’t some meathead. And this guy was tall; maybe even slightly taller than Robynne had been before the transformation. Plus, his hair was an odd shade of black that seemed to shimmer a dark blue where the light hit it. Robynne was pretty sure she had seen that color somewhere but couldn’t place her finger on it.
Then Robynne made the mistake of looking into his eyes. They were a very attractive, inviting, chocolaty brown that you could just get lost…
She closed her eyes and shook her head. Donut! The eyes? Again? She had never once focused on the eyes when she had been a guy! But now she kept getting lost in dude’s eyes. Well, maybe she was exaggerating. It was only this guy and the guy at the SFEERS booth. Regardless, her biochemistry was betraying her! And… then it hit Robynne that Cory was still talking. “…that means poor Robynne here will have to be wearing the cheer uniform from time to-”
Eli coughed hard. “Oh, hey Dale! Back from band practice already?”
“Yes! Dale!” Cory froze and bit his bottom lip and turned around stiffly. “I did not hear you come in.”
Robynne opened her eyes and looked up from the floor. She once again chanced looking into those magnetic brown eyes. To her chagrin, this Dale guy was staring right at her the same way a child eagerly stared at an unexpected Christmas present. “Uh yeah,” he said in a deep voice Robynne begrudgingly admitted was quite melodious. “Band and I just finished up early. Drummer wasn’t feeling his best. ” He set his guitar down on the rickety table and flashed an easy smile, though Robynne felt his pretty eyes betrayed more nervousness than he cared to let on. “Sorry for being so rude. Hi.” He held his hand out to Robynne. “My name’s Dale Bridges. And you are…?”
Robynne shot Cory and Eli an accusatory glance. They had said their new roommate would be at band practice for a few hours. They had said nothing about him being so… well, though it killed her to think it, cute. Then again, Robynne knew she should cut them some slack on the second part; Cory and Eli still thought of her as a guy, and she was really grateful for that. But they really couldn’t have any clue what a storm of confusing hormones and contradictory impulses her body was sending her. Sometimes she swore it forgot that she had been a dude just one week ago on purpose. Sudden shifts in gender were very inconsiderate that way.
“Robynne.” She purposefully left off her last name. Darling may have been her mother’s maiden name but she never should have agreed to it. She hadn’t been thinking clearly after the transformation. She hadn’t fully considered what a cartoon character she sounded like when she said her full name.
As she shook Dale’s hand she was struck by how tiny her own hand was in comparison. It was odd to think that if this guy had shown up at the same time as everyone else, they would have been sharing Robynne’s old room together. No doubt Dale would love that arrangement even more now. Thank heavens she didn’t have to deal with coed dorm arrangements.
“Robynne, huh? Pretty name. What brings you over to our humble little dorm? You know Cory or Eli?” Robynne could hear several other questions implicit in his actual question: why hadn’t Cory and Eli told them about the babe that they knew? Are they involved with Robynne in any way? Is this babe fair game or do I have to give Cory or Eli a chance to strike out first?
Robynne opened her mouth to answer but no words came out. How did she know Cory or Eli? Why was she hanging out with them? She hadn’t thought of that at all.
Eli saw her hesitation and spoke up. “Robynne actually is from the same town Robert was from. She hung out a bit before he left after his,” Eli gave pleading glance, “father died in that car crash.”
Dale’s shoulders slumped. “Oh. Yeah. That’s… that’s just depressing. Didn’t even know the guy and I can’t help but just feel bad for him.”
Robynne nodded. So that was how Cory and Eli explained Robert Dreese’s disappearance. Clever. Technically her father had died in a car accident after all. And it explained why Dale had never seen Robynne come over. Why would some girl come over a lot when her main contact, her old former male self no less, was gone?
Robynne agreed with Dale. “Yeah. It’s really tough. It was nice having someone else from Deepwater here.”
Dale leaned on the couch. “So were you and Robert close friends or something?” Another test question, trying to see if she was dating Robert and mourning his loss. Definitely not kosher to move in on her if that was the case. Dale clearly wanted her to be available for pursuit. Saying she had been dating Robert Dreese would put any plans like that on pause. It wasn’t like anyone could prove otherwise. It was literally impossible for anyone to contact Robert Dreese anymore. It would make for a very convenient excuse.
“Robert’s my friend. He’s… well, I hope he gets through this okay.” Despite it being a convenient excuse, Robynne couldn’t actually bring herself to imply she had been dating Robert. Saying that she was dating herself just felt so, well, incestuous. Or was “masturbatory” the better word? She wasn’t exactly comfortable with either word.
Dale said nothing and nodded his head. “Yeah, uh… must be hard being away from home then?” Reaching. He was searching for some way to keep each other in a conversation. Was this how it always was when guys made passes on girls? Robynne could sure remember more than one fumbling conversation when he had been courting… regardless, it was very strange to be on the other side. Still, he wasn’t being pushy exactly. Just a little too obvious. Oddly, she wasn’t feeling as tense around him as when he first walked in. If anything his entire demeanor seemed to rela…
His aura was invading her own. She hadn’t noticed it at first but she could feel that smooth mahogany textured aura mingling with her own aura and changing her demeanor. It was more subtle than Cammy’s, his aura was nowhere near as strong as the Cheer Captain’s, and seemed to mellow her out rather than make her worship him.
“Um, yeah.” Robynne retreated to her backpack, using it as an excuse to put some distance between her and the aura. As she walked, the aura’s effect diminished. She hadn’t even needed to push him out the way she had Cammy. A little distance did the trick. Probably meant he wasn’t doing it on purpose. Had something similar happened with the SFEERS President and she just hadn’t noticed? She’d need to experiment more with Fretribution’s aura later. Though she wasn’t exactly sure when she’d see him again.
Robynne hastily grabbed her backpack and slung it over her shoulder. “But I have a lot of homework I need to get done. I’ve already put it off too long.”
Cory coughed and spoke with stilted words. “Yes, uh, we are so sorry to have, you know, kept you, Robynne. We should have totally known you had homework and things.” Robynne wanted to shake her head. How could someone who did nothing but consume media be such a bad actor?
Eli did roll his eyes, but otherwise did a much better job of pretending this wasn’t unexpected. “Sorry for keeping you. Will we be seeing you at the SFEERS opening social on Saturday?”
The opening social! She’d see Fretribution there for sure. She’d just have to get close enough to get a better feel for his aura. With some luck, she could use him as a sort of control group for textured auras. “Oh yeah. You’ll see me there.”
Eli nodded. “See you then.”
Robynne felt the wave of relaxation approach her from behind. “Hey, yeah. Really sorry you got to run. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
Robynne didn’t risk turning around and looking into his eyes again. She instead marched straight for the door. Her body could not be trusted if she stayed in this guy’s presence too long. It would betray her again if given the chance. “Yeah. Nice to meet you too, Dale.”
As she bolted out the door and shut it behind her she gave a sigh of relief. She was probably overreacting. But wasn’t she allowed to overreact at least a little bit? Given what she had gone through in the past few days, it felt completely warranted to her. Besides, he had a meddlesome aura. Probably unintentionally meddlesome, but until she felt she had a better handle on both her biochemical and aura-related reactions, she’d need to avoid this Dale.
Through the door she heard an excited Dale ask, “So what was that you guys were talking about her wearing a cheer uniform as I walked in? Is she a cheerleader or something?”
Robynne slapped her hand to her forehead. She really needed to staple Cory’s mouth shut. Last thing she needed was this new guy dreaming about her in a cheerleading outfit. Or worse.
Robynne sipped on her soda with one hand and tugged on the hem of her skirt with the other. While the campus dress code clearly stated women’s skirts had to be at least knee-length, almost none of the faculty ever went out of their way to enforce skirt-length unless someone was really pushing it. Hence most girls on campus were cheating the rule by an inch or two in their best efforts to look as cute as possible. Conversely, Robynne was typically over-achieving the rule by a good two to six inches. Robynne had no desire to show off any leg.
So Robynne was rather displeased to be borrowing one of Vivian’s skirts that rode high on her waist, pinched at the hips, and skirted the skirt-length rule by a good four inches.
Vivian slapped Robynne’s hand. “Quit futzing with your skirt. You’re supposed to look confident to Cammy, remember?”
“Hard to feel confident when I keep catching people staring at my legs,” Robynne grunted and gave a nearby pair of guys her best death glare. Once passing them, Robynne sighed and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. “Besides, in my experience the girls who dress more, uh, provocatively tend to not be confident but trying to mask insecurities.”
Vivian shrugged. “Two sides of the same coin. If a girl’s doing it because she knows she can pull it off, it’s confidence. She’s expressing herself and expression of yourself always makes people more confident. However, If a girl is doing it because she doesn’t think people will like her unless she’s showing more skin, it’s insecurity. She’s looking for approval.” Robynne nodded and considered Vivian’s point. She had never really thought of it that way. “So, because Fate has given you a body that can easily pull a skirt this short off, Cammy will see it as confidence… unless you keep futzing with your skirt.”
“Quit saying ‘futzing’! You’ve never said it before. Why you suddenly obsessed with the word?”
“I don’t know. Just coming to mind, I guess. I like the word futzing. It’s a fun word. More people should use it. You included. But back to the task at hand, I’m right. If you keep nervously adjusting your clothes, Cammy will see your discomfort and assume you’re not used to dressing this nice. She will then guess you wore this outfit to impress her and ingratiate yourself to her. That gives her the power in your conversation because then she is assuming you need her. That makes your negotiating position weak. You need to look at ease and like she needs you more than her. So just, for the love of all that’s holy, please stop… messing with your clothes and just pretend looking hot makes you confident.”
Robynne grumbled and tossed what was left of her soda away in a garbage can as they passed by. “Couldn’t we have at least gone with a clashing blouse color or something?” Robynne tugged on the sheer fabric of the pastel green blouse she currently wore. “I don’t like how it looks like I’m trying.”
Vivian slapped her hand to her forehead. “Rosy, you’re wearing a cute outfit, not a prom dress. You do not look like you’re trying. At best you’re looking like you somewhat cared when you woke up today. Quote-unquote ‘trying’ would require you to also be be wearing heels and you’d actually have let me do your face up more. Trust me, you are simply showing Cammy that you know that you have been dressing like a hobo cat lady and have been doing it on purpose.”
Robynne frowned. “I don’t dress like a hobo cat lady. I just dress to avoid attention.”
Vivian gave a conciliatory nod that reminded Robynne of Kara. “And this outfit merely shows to Cammy what you can do when you don’t mind a little attention. It’s a demonstration that you’re not some clueless, tomboy nerd who doesn’t know how to groom herself. To someone like Cammy, who sees beauty as a tool to be used, this will prove you’re competent and useful. Trust me. I’ve been cheering since Middle School. I know how queen bees like Cammy think.”
Robynne huffed and nodded. “Fine… but you’re telling me the amount of makeup I let you put on doesn’t constitute ‘trying’? I let you do blush and eyeshadow! The only thing I really drew a line on was lipstick.”
Vivian gave Robynne an understanding but mystified smirk. “I didn’t even bother asking about using mascara, curling your lashes, styling your hair, painting your nails, or touching up your pasty complexion with some bronzer. I knew you’d nix those right out. But, even with all that. Lipstick? That’s your line? You pick some strange lines, Rosy. I don’t see what a lack of lipstick proves. Fate’s already cursed you with that body. What is lipstick going to do to your no-doubt messed up body-image psychological issues that Fate hasn’t already done?”
Robynne stared at her shoes as she fruitlessly searched for a way to explain her own convoluted logic that had deemed lipstick as a step too far. Failing to come up with a way to explain herself, Robynne just examined her shoes more. They weren’t her usual tennis shoes but some business-like flats that Vivian had insisted on sharing. She said the outfit’s image would have been sabotaged by Robynne’s normal shoes. Vivian had originally pushed for Robynne to wear heels. She decided to change the subject away from makeup. “At least you agree that flats were a better choice, right? I have no clue how to walk in heels. Me stumbling around would undermine the entire image you’re trying to sell me on. Nothing shows less confidence than wobbling like a drunk.”
Vivian nodded with a sigh, “True, true. Still feels like a crime to not pair that outfit with a nice set of heels.”
Robynne frowned. “Knew you were just playing dress-up.”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “Oh yes. Because I’ve hidden that I like seeing what outfits look good on friends. Donut, you got me!”
Robynne took a deep breath and reminded herself that Vivian was trying to help. She couldn’t hold it against her that she, like most girls, liked to test new outfits other girls. “Sorry. I’m just grumpy. Can’t stand how tight this skirt is on my hips. I am starting to regret just borrowing a skirt from you.”
Vivian held her hands out plaintively. “Are you kidding me? I suggested we go buy you a skirt like four times last night! You shot me down every time! I warned you that you’d be too curvy for my clothes!”
Robynne did not like being informed she was too curvy. “Yeah. You did.”
“And you didn’t listen!” Vivian shook her head and folded her arms. “Well, the lesson that has been learned here is you always listen to Vivian. On all topics. Forever.”
“I don’t think the lesson is as comprehensive as you’re assuming.”
“All topics!” Vivian insisted with a giggle. “But anyway, are we getting close at all? I thought you said you could sniff this biscuit out.”
Robynne sighed. “I said my extra sense could feel where…” Then Robynne realized other students were walking around them. Two cute girls talking about extra senses was probably going to attract some attention. “Nevermind.” Robynne closed her eyes. Robynne still couldn’t be sure how, but her aura now had a compass-like ability to sense where Cammy was at all times. Though she wasn’t close enough to feel the texture, Robynne could feel Cammy was somewhere in the building directly north of them. “She’s in there.”
Vivian scratched her chin ponderously. “Wonder what she’s doing in the FLAC.”
“FLAC? I’m not sure what that building is. Why is it interesting.”
Vivian waved her hand casually. “It’s the Administrative Center where all the campus administrators offices are… though I suppose that’s kind of obvious.”
Robynne opened up the door for Vivian. “What does the F and L stand for?”
Vivian giggled as she walked through the door. “You’re still such the gentleman. As for the acronym, honey if I know. Probably some dead person who gave the school a lot of money fifty years ago.”
Robynne nodded, ignoring Vivian’s barb about being a gentleman. “Probably a safe bet.”
As they entered the building, Robynne could feel Cammy’s aura intensify. She took a deep breath and steeled herself. Vivian glanced around and pursed her lips. “Hmm, don’t see her here. Where is she Rover?”
Robynne let her shoulders slump, “Please don’t treat me like I’m a bloodhound.”
“Will it help if I promise to give you treats later?” Robynne said nothing and gave Vivian a displeased stare. Vivian’s smile widened. “I’m helping.”
“You really aren’t.”
Vivian practically pranced as she walked. “You love meeeee.”
Robynne tried and failed to hide a smile. Donut but Vivian was amusing. “You are such a nuisance.”
That only seemed to make Vivian beam brighter. “Yeah, well, this nuisance still hasn’t had her question answered. Where is Cammy now?”
Robynne focused. The faint wine-like color of Cammy’s aura staining a group of people in various offices somewhere above them and to the north. Robynne pointed in the direction of the impression. “Somewhere that way. I think she’s one, maybe two, floors up.”
“Hmm,” Vivian mused while rubbing her chin. “Let’s follow that line until we are directly underneath her. Lead on.”
Robynne raised an eyebrow but did as instructed, and walked towards Cammy’s aura. The pair marched past several rows of offices and department suites and the aura kept intensifying. Finally, after passing some stairs, the aura finally began to weaken “Okay, a few steps back.” Robynne doubled back to a few doors before the staircase. “Here. Well not here exactly. She’s definitely one floor up and inside one of the offices. Now what?”
Vivian glanced at the office directly in front of them and flipped through some pages on her phone’s web browser. “Okay, so this is 137. That would mean Cammy’s likely sitting in 237 or something near that. So who occupies office 237? I think if we find out that, we might have a good idea for an approach.”
Robynne nodded her head. Building directories were always online now. Why hadn’t she thought of that? “Good thinking.”
“Well, I am pretty brilliant.”
Robynne could now feel the full wave of Cammy’s aura pushing on her. As she examined it, Robynne decided the fact that she couldn’t see Cammy and vice versa changed how the aura affected her. During her initial encounter with the Cheer Squad Captain, before purging Cammy’s aura from her own, she had felt the need to be deferential and curious about what Cammy said. Now she merely felt a curious wonder about what was going on upstairs. Was this a sign that Cammy knew about her aura and could direct it at someone? There was still far too little data to come to any conclusion.
“You seriously can’t feel her aura at all?” Robynne idly asked Vivian. Then Robynne glanced around, realizing how weird that sounded to anyone who didn’t know they were Spirit Guard. Luckily the FLAC had a lot less foot traffic. Robynne figured the lack of classes in this building limited the foot traffic. Still, she needed to be more careful.
Vivian didn’t lift her eyes from her phone’s screen. “I can feel something strong. But I don’t feel it invading me or others like you described. I also can’t quite pin the location the way you can. I just sort of… I don’t know. Auras always feel a bit distant to me.” The contemplation that had been masking Vivian’s face gave way to a triumphant smirk. “Here we are. There is no 237. But there is a 236 and a 239. 236 belongs to some emeritus professor. But 239,” Vivian said with a twinkle to her eye, “is the office of Campus Club Administration. How much you want to bet she’s in that office?”
Robynne smirked. “No bet.”
Vivian nodded. “Wise, but we still gotta come up with a plan to how exactly you’re going to approach this. You can’t very well just march into the office. She will find it suspicious you know where she is.”
“Hmmm,” Robynne bit down on her thumbnail. “Well, I’m telling her I figured out the club angle anyway, right? Since we’re also saying you pestered me into this, maybe I just spin it off as you were too excited to wait until Tuesday when I’d see Stacy again and suggested we see if Cammy was doing something with clubs.”
Vivian nodded and continued to smirk. “I like it. And if the Campus Club Administration office is like any of these other office suites in this building, it will have windows that let us see that people are inside. I can make a big show of being all like, ‘I told you she’d be here,’ while you tell me to chill out and saying, ‘Let me handle this.’ But I won’t chill out because I was right, as I always am, and I can act insufferable as a result.”
Robynne rolled her eyes. “Act insufferable? It’s no act.”
Vivian clutched her chest. “You wound me!”
Robynne just rolled her eyes and started marching up the stairs. “You and Cory are made for each other.” Robynne stopped when she felt Vivian’s hand on her shoulder. “What?”
Vivian’s face looked serious for the first time all day. “You sure you want to go through with this?”
“I didn’t let you put makeup on me for no reason.”
Vivian shook her head. “Up until now we could back out. But the moment we go up those stairs and Cammy sees us, it’s go time. No one will blame you if you decide to back out. Your situation is insane. Everyone would understand. So I ask you again. Are you sure?”
Robynne glanced down at her shoes once more. One foot on the stairs. One foot on the ground. Did she really want to go through with this? She glanced up the stairs and felt Cammy’s aura pushing on her. But not just her, Robynne could feel it crashing against others, demanding their attention. Vivian couldn’t feel it. Kara hadn’t felt it. Mallory hadn’t felt anything at all. Angela only got faint hints at what Cammy’s aura could do to people and had even fallen under its sway before.
Was Robynne sure she wanted to do this? “No. I’m not sure I want to do this. But nobody else can. You coming?”
“You really are amazing,” Vivian said as an impressed smirk curled at the edges of her lips.”And I’m right behind you. Let’s sell this act and bring this biscuit down.”
Jodi sighed. How on earth could Cammy be so confident? “But she flat turned you down. And, from what I saw, was kind of a bitch about it. What makes you think she’ll come back.”
Cammy crossed her luscious legs confidently. God what Jodi would do to have legs like that. “I have a hunch.”
Tanya rubbed her eyes as she stared at her laptop screen. “Still can’t believe I can’t, like, find anything on this girl! What rock did she crawl out of? I’ve never seen anyone with a smaller social presence. It’s like she just appeared out of thin air. I almost would guess she just got out of some witness protection program.”
Cammy blew on her nails casually. “Don’t worry yourselves girls. The scarlette will come crawling back and be begging to join us. I suggest we move onto more productive topics.”
Jodi knew better than to pry but she couldn’t help herself. This Robynne girl had already said , “No,” to Cammy. Jodi had never seen that. Well, not since Angela anyway. And Jody knew Cammy had opened up the war chest to make a sizable purchase. So what had she done to sweeten the pot. “What did you do? Why will she change her mind. What did you get her?”
Cammy gave Jodi an amused but icy stare. “You’re starting to get on my nerves, Jodi. Just trust me.”
Jodi bowed her head. She knew she shouldn’t pry! Stupid! Now Cammy was annoyed with her. “Sorry. Yes. We should probably move on. We only have another half hour before the Club Administration people get back from lunch.”
Tanya nodded. “Yeah. Best to finish discussing our plans while we still have privacy. They got all weird last time when we started talking about rounding out the majority.”
Cammy gave Tanya a dismissive wave. “The Club Administration people tend to be all about involvement and engagement. They fail to see, like, the big picture. But they were nice enough to loan me a key for,” Cammy giggled, “promotion work. So, how goes promoting the big pre-homecoming kickoff party with the team? Jodi got the kids of the boosters who matter invited. Any VIPs holding out on attending? I don’t want anyone getting scared off after what happen to Omicron Chi last year.”
Tanya nodded and clicked through some pages. “There were a few holdouts. Yeah. Let me look. Okay. I talked to Shane and he said a few of the seniors who got suspended for being caught at the Omicron Chi party won’t be coming. I don’t think we can get them to come.”
Jodi nodded her head. “Probably for the best. They’ll attract attention. The boys at Alpha Sigma Epsilon are already a bit skittish about hosting this thing. I told them to talk to you if they thought about backing out of being the football team’s sponsor frat. That stopped their whining… though if I were them I’d probably be nervous too. Obviously we can’t have the party hosts backing out but I think we should let the players be for now.”
Cammy sighed. “I guess. Still, this is a big draw for us. Losing some of the seniors makes the party look smaller. That means less involvement with booster’s kids. That means less contact with the big wigs who fund this place. What about the new recruits? We got that five-star tight end this year. What was his name? Eric Axe? I remember them making a big deal about him during that booster luncheon event. Great haul I’m led to understand. If he’s a big deal we need him to show up. He’s coming right?”
Tanya giggled. “I’ll say he’s a tight end. You should see his ass! I was at practice and… mm-mmm!”
Cammy chuckled but put Tanya to task. “Is he showing up or not?”
Tanya’s giggle turned to a frown. “Um… well… according to Shane… Eric Axe is probably not. He said he hates big parties so…”
Cammy took a deep breath and sighed. “Jodi.”
Jodi nodded and jotted down the info. “Eric Axe. Alpha Sigma Epsilon homecoming party. Got it.”
Tanya bit her bottom lip. “This might not be the best time but I’m really not liking the lack of buzz around this party. I mean, normally homecoming is so much closer to the start of school but even still we aren’t getting people talking about it on social media like we did…”
Jodi stopped listening when she saw a pair of girls round the corner of the stairs and pass by the windows of the Club Administration office. Jodi’s jaw nearly hit the floor when she saw one of them was a very stunning, short scarlette round the corner outside the Club Administration office. She really was crawling back! How the hell did Cammy always get what she wanted? “Cammy. It’s her.”
Cammy furrowed her brow in confusion at Jodi. When she saw what Jodi was looking at though her winning smile returned. “Well, well, well. Would you look at that.” Then Cammy frowned. “Wait, how did she know to find us here?”
“I don’t know.” Something was definitely up. There was no way that scarlette should have known Cammy, Jodi, and Tanya were here. They hadn’t told any of the other cheerleaders so she couldn’t have found out from Stacy. Maybe the secret was in whoever Robynne’s short companion was. She certainly did look excited to have found them; the girl was bouncing up and down like a popcorn kernel waiting to pop and kept pointing at Cammy. God, she did have really gorgeous hair though! The light glinted off her impressively long ebony locks like they were made of pure onyx.
It seemed the scarlette was doing everything she could to calm the girl down. Jodi could see her mouthing the words, “Just let me handle it,” a couple of times. That’s when Jodi noticed for the first time that Ms. Darling was actually wearing a touch of makeup and some nice clothes for a change. The other two times she had seen her, the girl had been wearing clothes so baggy she might as well have been wearing trash bags. Was she trying to impress Cammy maybe? She wouldn’t be the first person to do so but something felt off to Jodi. Why would someone who shot Cammy down so defiantly now want to impress her?
“Tanya, I have a feeling Robynne will be wanting to have a chat with me,” Cammy mused. “When I send you and Jodi out, find out anything you can about that brunette. Something tells me she’s the driving force behind this meeting.” Jodi smiled. It was good to hear Cammy agreed with her assessment of the brunette.
Tanya nodded. “You got it,” then added with a grumble, “assuming she’s not an internet ghost too.”
“Why is she coming back?” Jodi asked. “She was such a bitch to you the other day.”
Cammy smirked. “Don’t worry about it. I told you she’d come crawling back.”
“But how is she already here? And why did she dress…” Robynne finally shooed away the shorter girl whose expression had morphed from excitement to tension. What was going on? Robynne then marched through the office door.
Cammy flashed her self-confident smile that could melt the heart of any boy and some girls on campus. “Robynne! What an unexpected surprise. I certainly didn’t expect to see you again.”
“Bull.” Robynne slung her backpack off her shoulder and plopped it onto an unoccupied chair. Very rude. Plus, that girl really should consider getting a bookbag. Backpacks had gone out of style three years ago. But Robynne didn’t seem to worry about that. She simply unzipped the main compartment of her backpack, reached in, and flipped something onto the table.
The item was a purple box of some kind. It slid across the table and stopped just short of sliding off Cammy’s side of the table. Jodi’s eyes went wide as she examined the box further. Soft and shimmering purple box wrapped in a single silky white ribbon. She had seen this type of box only once before when shopping with Cammy on her birthday with Mr. DeCroix’s credit card. “Edō & Grevina?” Jodi whispered with near reverence. That was what Cammy sweetened the pot with? Cammy had never spent that kind of money on anyone but herself. Not even Jodi, her bestie, had been given something like that. And now she was spending it on this ungrateful tramp who just tosses the box around like it’s trash? What was Cammy doing?
Robynne’s emerald green eyes focused on Cammy with cold resolve. “We need to talk.”
Robynne knew it was stupid but she was having to fight the biggest smile. She had tossed that box perfectly. It didn’t bounce or roll on it’s side. It landed flat and slid across the full length of the table and came to a stop just in front of Cammy with one corner hanging off the edge. She was really hoping Vivian had seen that. She knew it wasn’t important given her current situation, but a toss like that was something Robynne knew she couldn’t have nailed more perfectly. It had a cinematic flair Cory would have been proud of.
Cammy bit the right corner of her bottom lip as she stared at the box. “What’s this?” she asked with calculation dripping in her voice.
“You know good and well what it is.”
“I haven’t the foggiest.”
Robynne rolled her eyes and sat down in the lone empty chair around the table. “Okay. So that’s how we’re playing this? Pretend we don’t know how this mysteriously showed up at my door yesterday?”
Cammy sighed and glanced at her two lackies. Angela had coached Robynne on them. The lime emeralde with the big chest would be Tanya Tell, Cammy’s gossipmonger and social media expert. She’d be the one tasked with figuring everything out about Robynne’s and Vivian’s history. Robynne was easy to hide but Vivian was harder given she actually used social media. Hopefully Noriko and the Twins were able to clean up any remaining online traces of her friendship with Angela.
The blonde with the perfect hourglass figure would be Jodi Ryder, Cammy’s right hand. Judging from the dirty look Robynne was getting, Jodi was rather upset that Robynne had been given an expensive dress as a bribe. Perhaps Cammy hadn’t even let her lieutenants know about that? That’d score a point for Angela’s theory that Cammy would want to keep all favors she did for Robynne hidden from the rest of the Cheer Squad.
“Girls. Can you give me and Ms. Darling here some alone time?” Cammy flashed a quick look at Tanya. The girl simply nodded, shut her laptop case, and stood up. She clearly had some task to do. Jodi however lingered in her chair for a moment, eyeing that box jealously. “Jodi. I said I need some alone time?”
Jodi pouted, closed her eyes, sighed, then nodded her head. “Yeah. Okay. Sorry.” She stood up and trudged after Tanya. The pair of cheerleaders, like Cammy, wearing their uniforms curiously went in opposite directions. Would Robynne have to be always wearing a cheer uniform like these buffoons? Did they realize what Saturday morning cartoon characters that made them look like?
“So,” Cammy said as the door clicked shut. “Edō & Grevina. You have some expensive but very stylish tastes. Bet you look absolutely ravishing in it.”
Robynne felt the full force of Cammy’s aura press on her. She could direct it. That much was certain, though Robynne had no idea if it was voluntary or not. If her aura was something she was unaware of, she might always be directing it at whoever she was focused on. More testing would be needed. “I don’t want the dress.”
Cammy blinked. Then she squinted. “I mean, if it doesn’t fit you could just get it tailored. I know a very good seamstress.”
“I’ll bet,” Robynne snorted. “Bet she was really busy with a certain rush order yesterday. The dress was clearly altered to allow for more room in the bust and hips. But no, I think it’d fit fine.”
“Did you even try it on to see what it’d look like?”
“I held it up to myself to see if it would fit. Had to know if it had been altered as that would tell me a lot. As you can probably guess a girl with my… proportions often has a hard time finding clothes that fit.” Robynne had to fight off a grimace as she said that. Vivian had really pushed that line as something Robynne should say; it demonstrated both vanity and frustration and those were traits Cammy would believe a girl like Robynne would have… or so Vivian said.
Cammy’s eyes stayed at a squint, as if she were staring at a magic eye picture that just wouldn’t come into view. “And? Did it look like it’d fit?”
“Suspiciously,” Robynne said as she leaned back, “it did. I have to know how you had such a good grasp on my measurements. By the time you would have had to had that dress tailored we hadn’t met.”
Cammy tossed her hair back and looked out the window. “Me? I don’t even know how you got this dress. Though I suppose if you have been hanging around someone who is a Fashion Design major they might have a good eye for that kind of thing.”
So she had consulted Stacy. Looks like Angela was wrong about that. “Right. How could you ever know? The mysterious ‘C’ who signed the note must be someone else. The point is. I don’t want this dress. Whoever sent it to me should probably take it back.”
Cammy eyes snapped to Robynne. “I… it’s an Edō & Grevina.”
Robynne shrugged and lied, “I know what it is. A girl would have to be born under a rock to not know the Edō & Grevina brand.” Or, in Robynne’s case, not born as a girl at all.
Cammy cleared her throat and clasped her hands together like she was talking to a child. “Then why wouldn’t you want it? I have an entire Squad full of girls who would die to have a dress like this given to them. You know how expensive those dresses cost?”
“I know exactly what most girls would do to have this dress. As to the price, after lookin’ online for this exact dress, two-thousand five-hundred eighty-fo’ dollahs not including taxes and whatever my ‘mystery patron’ paid to have it tailored to ma figure. But that’s not the point. The point is, you still don’t get me at all. You seem to think I dress the way I do because I’m eithah too poor to afford propah clothin’ ‘r… ” Robynne realized she was letting her accent slip. She pushed a small bit of Cammy’s influence that had trickled into her aura out and continued. “Ahem. Or that I’m some backwards rube who doesn’t understand fashion. I assure you Ms. DeCroix, I dress how I want, when I want to. I just don’t spend frivolous amounts of money on something I can’t wear at least twice a month.”
Cammy just glared at Robynne. It wasn’t a hateful glare, but rather a glare you give something that just didn’t belong. The glare you give something that just seemed so out of place that it made you question its existence. “So, then you came all the way here just to, what, thumb your nose at me? How did you even know I was here?”
Robynne sighed. This was the part she had practiced with Angela. She’d have to play this just right. If she messed this up, she could blow the whole plan. “I didn’t come here to thumb my nose at you. Quite the opposite really.”
Cammy sat up straight. “Oh?”
“You talked yesterday all about being a piece versus a player. Frankly, I didn’t want to be involved in games like that. Then this dress mysteriously shows up. A dress that costs more than my entire living expenses for a semester. When that much money gets dropped on you… well, let’s just say I suddenly got the impression the game is much bigger than I could have guessed.”
A smile as slick as oil itself crept over Cammy’s face. “Indeed it is.”
“I started doing some research and asking myself some big questions. Why did the Captain of the Cheer Squad spend, what I guess to be, around three large on me? And why does she care about SFEERS? It’s a club that focuses on science fiction, fantasy, and video games. Not exactly a lot of overlap in that Venn diagram.”
“Not traditionally, no.”
“So I started looking around SFEERS Club Charter. I found something interesting, a clause about how the club determined who cast its votes on the SAU Student Association board.” Cammy’s smile disappeared. “I hadn’t realized SFEERS had a vote in SAUSA. So I started looking around to other clubs. I found similar wording in their charters too. Even frats and sororities had votes. Weird, huh?”
Cammy kept her face an unreadable mask. “It does seem a bit unorthodox, yes.”
Robynne stood up and began pacing. She knew it probably better fit the confident profile VIvian was cultivating for Robynne if she stayed sitting but she just couldn’t stay still. “That lead me to looking closer at the Student Association.” Robynne pushed a stray strand of hair back confidently as she watched Cammy shuffle nervously. “Seems the Student Association here has some power. Lots of power. Like, a lot more than any other Student Association I’ve heard of. If someone could get a bunch of the clubs, frats, and sororities pulling in the same direction… well, they could get a lot done. And, as I looked through the public lists of all they’ve voted on before the vote to make the votes private… I found one vote in particular that I found very interesting. Can you guess which vote that was?”
Cammy glared. “I haven’t the foggiest.”
“Really? Because it seems interesting to me that two years ago the Cheer Squad was suddenly funneled 10% of all club and frat dues to become the promotion arm of every club. And given that there isn’t a day goes by that I can’t find a pair of cheerleaders somewhere on campus hocking something, I’d say Cheer Squad has probably expanded quite a bit over the years since that vote.”
Cammy stood up and broke eye contact with Robynne. She instead just stood at the office window and peered into the hallway of the FLAC. “What’s your point, Robynne?”
“My point,” Robynne said, tapping on the flashy purple box, “is that whoever the mystery person is who gave me this dress is, that person has a lot of money behind them and seem to want me to be a piece on the board. I’m guessing they need me to get SFEERS in line with their goals because SFEERS is a big club and is a bit of a wild card. And whoever gave me this dress, clearly thinks I stand a very, very, very good chance of being able to do that.”
“Very interesting theory that you’ve crafted, Robynne.” Cammy turned and faced Robynne once more. “What did you do with this theory? Did you tell it to anyone?”
Robynne nodded. “I did. My roommate, Vivian Joy. That brunette you saw with me outside the door.”
“What did she say?”
“Well, she first said I was crazy for not wanting the dress. But she also flipped when I told her that you had extended an offer to join the Cheer Squad. You see, Vivian is super jealous. She was a cheerleader throughout high school and only failed to try out here at SAU because she found out about when the tryouts were too late. She’s begging me to see if you’d let her in since you obviously have a slot open.”
Cammy chuckled. “Respectfully, Robynne, I don’t have any use for your friend.”
“She’s in SFEERS with me,” Robynne countered. “So you have some use for her. But, I get it. I was the one you targeted. Not her.” Robynne paused for dramatic effect. Vivian had jabbered non-stop about Robynne needing to pause for dramatic effect with a girl like Cammy. Robynne didn’t see the logic behind it, but Vivian was the cheerleader expert and Angela hadn’t disagreed with her. “But, as one of my conditions, if you want my help, she gets onto the Cheer Team too. Me and her.”
Cammy inspected her nails with a smile. “Well… I do suppose she’s plenty cute enough. She’s easily a Seven.”
The number system. Angela had said Cammy graded every cheerleader on it. And Vivian had said it would be best to use Cammy’s language and act at least a little like a normal girl. And if there was anything living with girls the past week had taught Robynne, it was that they always compared their bodies to one another. “Seven-and-a-half if you ask me. I mean, come on. That hair?” No, Robynne should throw a little bit of vanity in that. Angela had been adamant that Cammy would expect Robynne to be at least a little self-absorbed. “I mean, there aren’t many girls I’d trade hair with but Vivian is one.”
Cammy smirked appreciatively. “From what I saw it was rather luscious. Hair that long normally has a mess of split ends. I’ll have to ask her what conditioner she uses. Well… I can definitely live with that. Though, I have to ask, why the change of mind? I mean, you seemed so hostile when you came in here.”
“Did I?” Robynne mused. “Then I apologize. I didn’t mean to sound hostile. I just… I guess I don’t like what that dress being sent as a bribe…”
“Allegedly,” Robynne agreed with a nod, “I don’t like what that being the bribe implies about me.” Robynne considered her next words. Cammy seemed to have liked Robynne being a little vain about her hair. Maybe she’d walk a little down that road. “I think you understand that when you have my body… people tend to assume you’re some braindead bimbo who only cares about fashion and looking good. I’ve had to fight that ever since puberty. So, that dress…”
Cammy nodded, “A miscalculation… by whoever sent it.”
“Yes,” Robynne snorted. “By whoever sent it.”
“Though,” Cammy noted with a mischievous glint in her eye, “you didn’t answer my question. What made you change your mind?”
“Huh? Oh!” Robynne had almost forgotten that part. Sugar. That was a big part of what she had practiced. Would have been a shame to let that go to waste. “Well, look, I’ve actually, over the past week, gotten to play some games with them.” Robynne did her best to look as wistfully as she could out the window. “SFEERS is a bunch of really fun people to play with. Funny, quirky… and a bit naive.” She frowned and sighed. “After all my research I… I just really get the feeling they have no clue about the power struggle they are inadvertently in the middle of.”
“Judging from your actions,” Robynne continued, “someone or some group is threatening your base of power. And, judging the expense you, allegedly, just went to, you’re desperate to hold onto it.” Robynne mentally reminded herself to check on Cammy’s aura. Sensing that it hadn’t invaded her own any further, Robynne congratulated herself on subconsciously keeping it out and continued. “I don’t know what your move on SFEERS would have been after I turned you down, but I’d much rather be the piece on the board rather than someone else.”
Robynne looked up at Cammy and saw a wide grin. “Glad to hear it.”
“Besides,” Robynne added, “I get the impression from seeing how you deployed cheerleaders across campus during this week’s club-related activities, you’re abusing your Promoters to make sure they only promote clubs and frats that help your agenda. Just like you said it would be for me, it’d be better for SFEERS to be a player rather than a pawn on the board.”
Cammy’s grin grew into a full on wicked smirk. “I’m so glad you see it that way. I think we can do business with your terms. I have no issue with your friend Vivian joining our little team and…”
“Whoa,” Robynne said, taking a step back. “let’s slow down here, Cammy. I said I had conditions. Plural. Vivian joining with me is only condition number one. You want my help, I have some other things that need to happen.”
Cammy frowned. “What about all that speech you just made about poor naive SFEERS needing your help to be players?”
“Let’s get one thing straight,” Robynne warned Cammy, “I may think it’s better for them to be players, but I find all this meddling you’ve now introduced into my life to be extremely… troublesome. I like my privacy. So if this new annoyance is to be introduced into my life, I’m expecting to be compensated and accommodated. Otherwise, no deal. SFEERS is better off being a player, yes, but they’ll survive regardless. We nerds are hardy that way.”
Cammy’s eyes narrowed. “Well then what is your other… request.”
“One of my other demands,” Robynne emphasized, “is you return that ridiculously overpriced dress.” Robynne reached into her backpack and pulled out a sheet of paper, “Then you use those funds to purchase me the computer components on this list and have them mailed to the dorm room listed at the bottom.” Robynne held out the sheet for Cammy to take.
Cammy scrunched her face up curiously and accepted the sheet. “Blue Blitzmax GZ Mid-Tower Gaming Case? Six-core four-point-oh-oh gee-aitch-zee fifteen emm-bee smart cache ell-gee… Robynne what is this?”
“I told you. It’s a list of computer components.”
Robynne shrugged and did her best to sound like she was trying not to be condescending while still letting it seep out. It was a hard line to straddle. “For a gaming computer. It should cost about what the dress did once you have all the parts overnighted.”
“Overnighted? You’re kidding.”
“I’m never kidding when it comes to gaming.”
Cammy was clearly growing exasperated the further down the list she got. “I see one of the parts here is something called a ‘liquid cooling cpu cooler!’ Why would you want water near electronics?”
“Electronics get really hot at the high ends of gaming. Cycling water moves the heat out quicker. It’s all contained so it won’t get the electronics wet, though I appreciate the concern.”
Cammy rubbed her temples. “Why the hell would I say, ‘yes,’ do this Robynne? How does this help me at all?”
This was the part of the pitch Robynne had worked through the most. If she was going to have to go through the mind-numbing waste of time of being on the Cheer team, she was donut sure to get something from it. Plus, Cammy had already spent the money and there was no way it’d get funneled back to the clubs it should have been given to. Might as well made sure it went to a good cause like giving Robynne a kick-angelcake new gaming rig. Or at least that’s how Robynne justified it.
“On a more realistic level, it doesn’t. Though I don’t see how the dress did either. But on a more practical level, you want me to get SFEERS to vote, at some point, the way you want them to. If I’m going to do that, I need to make lots of friends. Gamers tend to make friends online. If I don’t have a rig that can play everything the club officership can play, I could be missing out on opportunities.”
Cammy glared at Robynne. After a few moments her eyes went back down to the sheet. “You don’t even live at this address. This is a boys dorm. And the only name you put for who to mail this to is ‘Bluster.’ Who is Bluster?”
Robynne smiled. “Just a made up name so they and deliver it. And don’t worry about the fact I don’t live there. I’ll get it. I just don’t want a paper trail showing that, allegedly, funds that were supposed to go to promoting other club activities were used to buy me computer parts.”
If Cammy had been glaring before, she was full on smoldering now. “Why would you want that Robynne? It’s almost like you don’t trust me.”
Robynne did her best to look as confident as possible. She couldn’t give Cammy a hint that she knew how Cammy had used the phone she gifted Angela against her. “Let’s just leave it at I’ve had bad experiences with cheerleaders in high school. I apologize, but for that reason I’m a little skittish about receiving gifts directly. I don’t meant to take out high school experiences on you but… well… that’s where I am and that’s what I’m demanding.”
Cammy’s eyes stayed glued to Robynne’s as she seethed. Robynne could tell she was debating whether or not her new potential ally was too smart for her own good. After about five seconds Cammy’s normal confident mask returned. “Very well. I suppose I can’t fault you. I don’t know what you went through. Those two conditions are…”
“I still have two more conditions.”
“Oh Hell! What now?” Cammy groaned.
“I don’t like how you manipulated Stacy into setting up a fake lunch with the two of us. Stacy isn’t to be used as a pawn. She’s a good girl who doesn’t deserve that treatment. You want something from me, you tell it to me face-to-face.” Robynne paused a moment before adding, “Or, you know, through the phone or email or something like that.” Robynne shook her head. “The point is, you tell it to me directly. I don’t like being manipulated and I really don’t like my friends being manipulated.”
Cammy gave a sigh of relief. Apparently, after the computer demand, she had been bracing for something much worse. “Okay. Fine. That’s fine. What’s your last demand.”
“I’m not promoting.” Robynne channeled as much Mallory as she could and stood as tall and firm as her tiny frame would allow. Didn’t help that Cammy was still a good six-inches taller.
Cammy blinked in confusion. “You’re not promoting?”
“Stacy told me all freshmen who get onto the Cheer Team are put onto the Promotion Squad and have to hand out fliers for some event once a week. I’m not doing that and neither is Vivian.”
Cammy rubbed her temples and let out a long groan. “Stacy told you about that, did she?”
Robynne nodded. “Stacy seems to rather enjoy it, but it’d make me want to kill myself. So Vivian and I aren’t doing it.”
Cammy took a long drawn out breath. Robynne was getting on her last nerve. “If I let you get out of promoting I’d have everyone else on the Promotion Squad blowing up my phone complaining and whining that ‘Robynne and Vivian don’t have to do it so why do I?’ Up until now your… requests have been tolerable. I could work with those. They weren’t a huge enough pain for me to decline. But this… a whining Promotion Squad is not worth the trouble you’re bringing me.”
Robynne folded her arms. “Well, I’m not doing Promotion work. It’s that simple. I don’t like unplanned social interaction with hundreds of people I don’t know.”
Cammy closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Okay. Let me start off by saying Vivian is working Promotion Squad shifts. That’s not optional. If that girl wants to be on the Cheer Team that bad she sure as hell better be willing to do the work.”
Robynne could feel Cammy wouldn’t budge on this point. She had hoped to get Vivian out of it but that wasn’t looking likely. “Fine. But I’m still not working Promotion Squad.”
“I have to give you assignments,” Cammy said firmly. “Everyone would notice if the new, hot scarlette wasn’t being given Promotion assignments like everyone else.” Cammy turned and started pacing, looking away from Robynne. Despite looking away, Robynne could feel the full weight of Cammy’s aura bearing down on her. Whatever she was about to say, she really was pushing hard, consciously or subconsciously, for Robynne to listen. “But if those assignments were, say, at the far corners of campus, where no other cheerleaders would see you… well, if you just showed up to your classes on your assigned Promotion days in your cheer uniform, well, the other cheerleaders would see you dressed as if you were going to work your assignment. The only person who would know you didn’t work your assignment would be whoever your partner was that day. And I could swing it such that Stacy and Vivian are usually your partners. Well, unless Stacy and Vivian tattled… I would have no idea you were slacking off, would I?”
Robynne made sure she was pushing back against Cammy’s aura with all of her mental strength. She didn’t want this biscuit influencing her decision. “No. You wouldn’t.”
Cammy turned just enough so that only one eye was visible. She clearly was trying to look as put out and fed up as possible. “Well then… would you agree to such an arrangement?”
Robynne didn’t like the bit where she’d have to go onto campus once a week in a cheer uniform, but Robynne was still having to focus to keep Cammy’s aura from invading her own. Robynne got the distinct impression this was as far as Cammy was willing to bend after all the other demands Robynne had made. “I can make that work.”
“Good,” Cammy said with a fake smile. “Then I just have one more item of business before we finalize our… arrangement. Correct me if I’m wrong, SFEERS opening social is tomorrow. Right?”
Robynne squinted her eyes. Robynne was impressed that she knew this and had committed it to memory. “It is. I was planning on going with Vivian.”
“Glad to hear it. But, before you go there, there will be a couple of items that would need to be taken care of.”
Robynne didn’t need an empathokinetic sense to feel that Cammy was about to exact some measure of revenge for all the capitulations Robynne just made her make. High school had developed that sense quite keenly. “What kinds of things?”
“First of all, every cheerleader has a photo and a bio up on the campus cheerleading page. I’ll have Tanya send out a questionnaire for you and Vivian to fill out that needs to be done by noon tomorrow.”
Robynne did not like the idea of her face on any campus website. “I don’t like that. I’m liable to get stalkers.”
“Stalkers can be dealt with by campus police. Besides, it’s not like we are posting your full name and address. Just your first name and a short, meaningless bio. None of the other cheerleaders have had stalker issues that weren’t ex-boyfriends. Your bio won’t get you stalkers. Don’t be so paranoid.”
Robynne took a deep, drawn out breath. “Okay. Fine. What else?”
Cammy smirked. “About an hour before your social, I’ll need you to report to the Cheer office. You’ll need to get your uniforms and your photos taken for your bios. It should only take you an hour and the office is right next to campus. You’ll be able to show up to your nerd social right on time.”
Robynne glowered. She saw exactly where this was going. “If I don’t go home to change that is.”
Cammy chuckled, “Oh, dear, you’re not changing. You and Vivian are going to that social in your uniforms. SFEERS needs to see exactly who it is their newest, sexiest recruits work for. And, please, put on all your face tomorrow. These photos are important. Look your best.”
Robynne clenched her fist. How petty could one girl be? If the Empress stuff and what Cammy did to Angela hadn’t been enough, this steeled Robynne’s resolve. This biscuit needed to be dealt with. “Why is it so important they know who we work for?”
Cammy casually examined her nails once more. “Branding, my dear Robynne, is the soul of marketing. I’d think even someone like you would know that.”
“And if I refuse?”
Cammy’s face became a straight line. Her eyes were piercing and her aura, normally a calm, wine-colored, sea of sticky liquid practically boiled with contempt. “You made your demands Robynne Darling. Now I’m making mine.” Her face practically dared Robynne to defy her. Robynne guessed, if she didn’t have her empathokinetic aura to shield herself, that she would be whimpering and begging to do whatever Cammy wanted. “Do we have a deal or what?”
Cammy extended her hand, her painted-purple fingernails reaching for Robynne’s hands like a predator’s claws. Robynne reminded herself that no one else could do what needed to be done. She reminded herself of the horror she put Angela through and how Cammy had manipulated poor Stacy. Robynne focused her mind on that aura and tried her best to imagine Cammy as the Empress and what untold suffering she could bring if she proved to be the Spirit Guard’s foe long-past.
Robynne took Cammy’s hand with a firm grip and gave it a single, solid shake. “Okay. Yeah. We’re in business.” She did her best to hide a smirk as she mentally said to herself, “In business to take you down.”
I had so much fun writing this chapter. It was some of the most fun dialogue I’ve ever had. I don’t think it’s my best work but it was so much fun. One thing I’d like to point out is Vivian, Robynne, Cammy, and Jodi all wonder how they were going to cover Robynne finding them… then it doesn’t ever come up in the actual conversation. To be honest, that was a total accident but something I think works. I let my dialogue flow with very little constraining it. I feel it helps make it authentic. I got done with the conversation and… suddenly I realized they never actually talked about it. I had planned on them doing so but they forgot about it, getting sidetracked by other things.
I like the idea that they forgot to ask. Happens all the time in real life. Why not here? Plus I can have Cammy kick herself that she forgot to ask later. Robynne definitely threw her off her game and that isn’t something she’s used to. And Robynne wasn’t going to bring it up if she didn’t have to. Plus maybe I can do something fun with Cammy assuming Robynne must have some deep connections or info network or something and then Robynne’s all, “Oh, Vivian thought you’d might be there because of all the stuff I figured out about the clubs and it being Club Week and everything.”
Cammy is so wonderfully petty. That is all.
Also, I think I’ve gone back and forth between Jodi and Jody about a billion times now. Cannon is it’s Jodi. If you see a Jody in earlier text, please let me know.
I really want to actually make the Robynne and Vivian bios part of the site… though now I also want to write up Robynne complaining about having to make the bios. Basically, the backbone of all my writing is giving Robynne something to complain about. But if I actually made the bios I’d have to commission more art and that costs money. Life is hard.
Forcing Robynne to go to the social in her uniform is something I didn’t actually plan on doing. It was a joke I made once with one of my buddies but the longer this chapter went the more I realized Cammy would not take well to having to capitulate and would feel the need to strike back. Then I realized this was the most immediate strike back Cammy would feel comfortable doing. She sees Robynne and herself as in a business arrangement and, if Robynne is, from her perspective, asking so much she’s going to immediately want some dividends. So starting off her branding well would be where she’d go I think.
Please let me know what you though!