Eli groaned as a sound roused him from his sleep. No. It was Sunday morning. He just wanted to sleep in. But no. His brain was hearing a sound it didn’t think belonged. So it had to rouse him from his slumber. This was why he couldn’t have nice things.
He had been up too late talking to Kara, Cory, and Vivian to be waking up right now. What time was it? Dare he open his eyes? He could feel the light from the cursed day-star seeping through his windows; once his eyes were open, there would be no way to return to the sweet respite of slumber. Then again, how tired was he really? He didn’t feel that tired. More just annoyed that he had been woken before he wanted to.
Finally, curiosity got the better of Eli and he cracked his eye open and peeked at his alarm clock. 10:11am. He supposed he had achieved around seven hours of sleep. That was pretty good. Sure it wasn’t the eight to nine hours he liked to try to get on a Sunday, but it was still more than plenty to function. He was just being greedy.
But there was still that question of what the crap that sound was. As his mind slowly started to boot up he considered the sound. It sounded like the high-pitched whirring of the old two-stroke engine on his dad’s busted weed whacker that he always refused to replace… only more organic sounding. And… maybe it was a snore.
Eli shot up in his bed. He had a feeling he knew what the sound was. He quickly opened his drawer and hastily put on the yellow t-shirt he pulled out from it. Then he opened his door and stepped into his dorm’s main living space.
There, laying on the crappy couch that looked like it had been in the dorm thirty years, were Cory and Vivian. Both were curled up on the couch with their heads sort of touching. And the sound coming out of Vivian’s nose was one of the loudest snores Eli had ever heard. Even asleep, this girl was loud. Did she do anything quietly?
This was against the rules. They weren’t supposed to let girls spend the night. Or rather, they weren’t supposed to let anyone spend the night. Cory had found this rule odd and conducted research. Eli had originally thought the purpose of the rule would have been to stop boys and girls cohabitating in the gender-assigned dorms. However, Cory’s research had apparently found the rule was mostly to prevent people from skipping out paying rent and just crashing on their buddy’s couch an entire semester. The University, private or not, would not be cheated out of every dime it could collect it would seem.
The rule breaking didn’t really bug Eli that much. Assuming the RA and the entire hall weren’t experiencing sleep deprivation caused by Vivian’s logic-defyingly loud snoring, no one knew she had stayed the night. Even if someone came over, they could easily claim she had come over this morning. It was past ten. Nothing too weird about that.
What bugged Eli was that a girl was in the dorm and he hadn’t been warned. What if he hadn’t been as cogent when waking up, had gone out there shirtless and Vivian had seen him in only his boxers? Sure it wasn’t especially scandalous but… well this dorm was his domain. He didn’t want to have to start worrying about keeping decent for girls.
Why was she even here? Why had they fallen asleep on the couch. A thought occurred to him and he looked at the television. It had been left on. The DVD player had automatically shut off. Eli remembered that when he had walked Kara back to her dorm, it had around two in the morning. While they were leaving, he remembered Cory and Vivian debating whether on old cartoon from their youth, Commander Earth, was even worse than Vivian remembered it. By the time Eli returned the pair were watching some episodes.
Of course Cory had it on DVD. Cory’s entire movie collection was nothing but a catalog of indie films Eli had never heard of or bad cartoons Cory enjoyed with masochistic pleasure. Now it seemed he had found someone to share that with. He never understood why would watch something to see how bad it was, but apparently Vivian did.
A door clicked open and Dale staggered out of Rob’s room with a grunt as he rubbed his bloodshot eyes. “Guh…” He had arrived home from a gig with his band shortly before Eli had escorted Kara back home. His voice had been scratchy when he came home. “Morning Eli.” Judging by that raspy tone, he had yet to get his voice back from a hard night of rock and roll. “How did ya…”
Eli quietly pointed at the couch and Dale’s eyes bugged out. He cleared his throat with a wry smile then gestured back into Rob’s room. Dale went back in and clearly expected Eli to follow. Which Eli should. It was perfectly natural for him to follow his roommate in where they could have a conversation without waking the pair on the couch up. But that was Rob’s room; Eli didn’t like going back into Rob’s room. It just felt wrong. Like walking in a mausoleum or something.
With a shake of his head, Eli chastised himself. What would Robynne say if she knew Eli was thinking this way? She’d bust his chops for sure. She didn’t want him to feel guilty, so, though it was against his very nature, Eli would try to not feel guilty. He marched into Rob’s… no, Dale’s room and shut the door behind him. He tried to dismiss the nagging thought in the back of his head that Rob’s gaming rig should be set up on the other desk. This was normal. Act normal.
Dale chuckled. “We aren’t supposed to let people stay over the night. Now I got you two horn dogs sneaking girls in here for overnight shenanigans.”
Eli rolled his eyes. “You saw me walk Kara home. And those two just fell asleep on the couch watching their terrible, terrible cartoon.”
Dale shrugged, “I’m just saying, I’m the one in a rock band. Stereotypes dictate that I’m the one supposed to be breaking all the rules and wooing the ladies. If you two are beating me to it, then it’s really going to hurt my rock cred.”
Eli laughed. “Don’t worry. We won’t tell.”
“Thanks. Where did you meet those two lovely ladies anyway?”
“They’re Robynne’s roommates.” Eli explained. “They came with her to the SFEERS opening social last night. Coincidentally they are also friends with my sister so… we have an in or two.”
“Robynne’s roommates, eh?” Crap. Eli knew Dale had been fantasizing about Robynne ever since they had met. Well, maybe fantasizing was too harsh a word. But he had asked about her a few more times. She was clearly on his mind. “Well, cool then. I guess if they came to hang out afterwards things went pretty well last night? Had a good time?”
“Definitely. They even had Tour de Rock set up at the social. Even Ro… I mean…” Probably best not to say Robynne had played Tour de Rock. Might encourage Dale to come next time. “I mean… though you actually play music so that’s not a draw for you I guess. Probably too easy.”
Dale gave a hearty laugh. “Actually, I’ve tried it… I suck so bad at the guitar in that game. My fingers keep trying to play the actual chords so I keep screwing up the buttons. Weird, right?”
Eli nodded. “Muscle memory can be quite the bitch. So how did your gig go last night?”
“Yeah. The gig.” Dale’s shoulders slumped. “I don’t know, man. I just could not get into a groove at all last night. I mean, I didn’t mess up too bad or anything but…”
“I’m not sure. It’s like… I just had a bad vibe going the entire night. Like something was off. Can’t place my finger on it.”
“You feeling okay?”
“I feel fine… I mean, obviously you can hear how worn down my voice is but… yeah. Just was in some kind of funk. Oh well. Hopefully I didn’t sink our chances at any future gigs. Made some decent money though.” Dale pursed his lips in thought. “That nerd club you join do any, like, Crosshair Eclipse LAN parties or anything like that? I was thinking I might get back into it. Got enough money from the gig to buy CE4.”
And have an excuse to come to SFEERS meetings where Robynne may be at. Eli chastised himself. The guy could be very sincere about it. He had enjoyed the game before. He saw Cory and Eli have a good time and they came back with attractive and normal looking girls. Maybe Dale was just realizing SFEERS might not be as strange as he had assumed. But Eli couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that he just wanted to hang around Robynne, which would no doubt make her feel uncomfortable. “They’re more into Corona Forge in the club. Not sure how big a thing Crosshair Eclipse is in SFEERS.”
“Darn. Really like that. Still Corona Forge seems pretty similar. Maybe after the next gig I could…”
“Holy sugar,” Vivian gasped in the living room. “Cory! You idiot! I told you not to let me fall asleep!”
“Craaaaap.” Eli could hear Vivian scramble off the couch. “What time is it. Sugar! I have to meet my family for church in forty minutes! Sunday is the day I spend time with them!” Eli could hear annoyance in Vivian’s voice rather than outright anger. “You said you wouldn’t fall asleep. Donut it! Knew I shouldn’t let you convince me to watch cartoons after 2am. You’re basically the devil. You owe me lunch now. Bye.” Eli heard the quick opening of the front door followed by the oh-too-familiar slam that occurred when you didn’t close it yourself.
“Bye Vivian?” Cory asked barely conscious.
Dale laughed, shook his head, and marched out of his room. “Well played, Casanova.”
Cory scratched his hair and yawned. “Dude, Dale. What’s up with your voice?”
“Ugh. Do I sound that bad? I’m going to gargle some salt water.” Dale made a beeline for their kitchen.
Eli leaned on the back of the couch and smirked. “You know we can get in trouble for letting girls spend the night.”
“We can get in trouble for letting anyone stay the night,” Cory corrected him. “Besides, the RA didn’t see her. We’ll be fine.”
“Let’s not take our chances going in the future, okay?”
Dale nodded his head as he dumped some salt into a glass of water. “Yeah, I’d rather not piss off the RA at the start of the year. Let’s wait until next semester at least.” With that, he downed the glass and started gargling.
“Whatever, you two are just jealous because I slept with a girl last night.” As if to accentuate his point Cory pointed both of this thumbs at himself.
“Yeah,” Eli snorted. “Explain it like that when Vivian’s around, Romeo. I’m sure she’ll think you’re a riot.”
“Wait…” Something about what Eli said seemed to slap Cory awake. “Do you think she was really mad at me when she left? I was so out of it I couldn’t really respond.”
Eli shook his head. “Nah. Probably more mad at herself. And worried she’s going to be late for church or something. It sounded like Sunday is her family day. Probably just wanting to avoid being lectured by her parents or something.”
Cory nodded. “Yeah. That makes sense.” Then he smiled and a pit of regret formed in Eli’s stomach. “Then again, poor girl, going to church right after sleeping with me. That’s got to be awkwarrrrrd.”
“Wow. Wasn’t funny the first time and yet you still doubled down on that joke. You know, if you drop that line in front of Vivian, now, on principle, I’m not going to stand up for you. You’ll get whatever rage comes your way.”
Cory rolled his eyes. “Oh come on. You know I wouldn’t actually say that in front of Vivian, right?”
Eli waffled his hand back and forth. “Ehhhhh.”
Cory’s shoulders slumped. “Oh come on. You’ve known me since kindergarten.”
“Yeaaaah, That’s sort of why I’m not so confident.”
“Ugh. Whatever, Dale at least knows I wouldn’t actually say that in front of Vivian, don’t you Dale.”
Dale waffled his hand back and forth and mimicked Eli, albeit while still gargling. “Ehghlglh.”
Cory shook his head. “Well, I have officially decided to hate everyone. I hope you’re both happy.”
A quick but heavy knock echoed through the front door. 10:30am on a Sunday? Who could that be? Maybe Vivian had forgot something? Then again, Eli was convinced someone as small as Vivian couldn’t knock that loudly.
Dale raised an eyebrow and spit his salt water into the sink. He wiped his mouth as he prowled to the door. “Wonder who that could be.”
He opened the door and there on the other side was a middle-aged man in some sort of delivery man uniform. The delivery man gave a tired sigh and glanced at his clipboard. “Overnight delivery for a Robert Dreese.” Eli and Cory exchanged nervous glances. Robert Dreese? Had Robert ordered something before his transformation?
The delivery guy tapped the clipboard to the top of a mountain of boxes stacked on top of his dolly. “Someone ordered a lot of computer parts and paid a pretty penny for overnight and weekend delivery.”
Eli’s eyes bugged out. That’s right. The components for Robynne’s new rig that she extorted from the queen bitch of campus. Eli had to stop himself from chuckling. That had been a great story; girls like that Cammy needed someone to blow on their house of cards once in a while. Plus, if anyone deserved a nice reward, it was Robynne.
Though, now that the parts were being delivered with Dale at the door, Eli was questioning the wisdom of sending the parts in Rob’s name. He had, at the time, thought it was a stroke of genius to make sure the parts weren’t delivered in Robynne’s name as that prevented Cammy from being able to trace things to her newest cheerleader if things went sour. But Dale was getting involved. How would they explain things?
“Um, yeah,” Dale said confused as he turned and looked at Cory and Eli. “You know what this is about?” Eli searched his brain for an excuse but was distracted by a figure moving down the hall. Was that a cheer uniform? “I thought that Robert…”
“Oh, yeah,” Cory said, thankfully thinking quicker than Eli, “I know what this is about.”
Eli inched further to the left to get a better look at who was in the hall. He watched the cheerleader, a girl with long black hair and darker skin fake like she was knocking on a door. She kept glancing at the delivery guy. Had Cammy sent a spy? There was no way this could be happening.
The delivery guy cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, I don’t want to be rude but I just had to lug all these boxes up a flight of stairs without any of them falling. It wasn’t easy, took a while, and I got more deliveries to get to. Could I get you to sign for it?”
Dale glanced at Cory and shrugged and signed for it. The delivery guy gave a sigh of relief and wheeled the stack of boxes in. He placed the smaller, less stable boxes on the table before pulling his dolly out from under the rest of the stack. “There you go. Enjoy.” He quickly spun around and exited.
“Well that was…”
The door didn’t slam shut as usual but, instead, was stopped short by a small hand. “Knock knoooock,” the cheerleader said as she darted her head in. So she had been waiting. Eli was now convinced she was some sort of spy.
Dale spun around and Eli couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched Dale take in the curves of the girl in the doorway. “Well, hello. How can I help you?” Eli couldn’t really blame him. She was pretty cute. She looked to be a girl of Indian descent: she was tall, leggy and had a very wide smile. However, her eyes did not match her smile. Her eyes had the look of an employee two minutes before their shift was over.
The girl held out a flier. “Heyyy, my name is Pari and I am just going door to door letting you all know about the victory party this afternoon in the Hansman Center.” Her eyes darted from Dale to Eli to Cory then back to Dale. Her smile morphed into a full on appreciative smirk as she gave him the once over. Dammit. The guy didn’t even have to try!
Or maybe that wasn’t it. The look in her eyes changed. She looked like a lightbulb had just lit up in her mind. Like something finally made sense. Why would something finally made sense? Eli needed to think like this girl. If he were a spy sent by the queen bitch of the Cheer Squad, why would she be here. Obviously she was tracking the package that was delivered.
But they knew what was in the package. Cammy or, more likely, one of her goons had placed the order. So it wasn’t the package it was where it was heading. She wasn’t sent to follow the package then, but instead to figure out who was this ally of Robynne’s that she trusted enough to have possibly condemning evidence mailed to.
And this cheerleader was eyeing Dale with a knowing smirk while she had barely given Cory or Eli a passing glance. She clearly thought Dale was Robynne’s confidant! It actually made a lot more sense if you thought like a shallow stereotype. They wouldn’t think Robynne could just be friends with any boys. She was too hot for that to be true. Any male “friend” would actually be a suitor whether Robynne liked it or not. So, naturally, this Pira was assuming Dale to be a suitor Robynne trusted with a secret. Cory and Eli were afterthoughts. They weren’t hunks of beefcake so why would they matter to someone as gorgeous as Robynne?
It almost made Eli want to laugh. Cory and Eli were hiding in plain sight and, despite Cammy sending a spy, she’d have no clue. For once in his life, Eli was completely comfortable being absolutely ordinary. Last thing he wanted was to be in the middle of this cheer mafiosa’s crosshairs.
Cory cleared his throat. “Victory party for what though?”
The cheerleader glanced away from Dale and gave Cory a condescending look. Eli thought he could also detect some annoyance in her voice as she explained, “Um, the big comeback yesterday? They were down fourteen points in the fourth quarter and won.”
Cory nodded. “I forgot the team played yesterday.”
Her eyes narrowed. “It… it’s a Saturday during the Fall semester. Of course they played.”
Cory shrugged. “It’s just that normally they play in the afternoon. I didn’t see campus streaming towards the stadium yesterday so I just assumed…”
“It was an away game.”
Cory nodded. “Oh, well, that makes more sense.”
She let out a sigh through her nose then went back to smiling at Dale. “Yeah, so, um, you should totally come.” Eli could hear the implicit exclusion in her voice. Dale was who she was inviting, not the entire dorm. “I mean, maybe you are already going though? A lot of cheerleaders will be there and you look the type who already may have been invited.”
Eli rolled his eyes. Subtle.
Dale smiled at her. “Well, I mean, we know a cheerleader and all but I don’t think we’ve been invited.” Dale glanced at Eli for confirmation.
How should Eli play this. If he said anything it would give away that he and Cory were the ones who really knew Robynne, not Dale. And Eli didn’t want Cammy knowing that. He also worried that his sister, the ninja girl, and Robynne would be mad at him for if he somehow got himself into trouble… again. He really disliked that he had been the damsel-in-distress more than a few times now. “Man, after last night I think I’m partied out for the weekend.”
Dale nodded. “Yeah, if you can’t tell by my voice I’m probably in the same boat. Thanks for inviting us though, Pari.”
She flashed her pretty smile at him. “My pleasure.” She gave him one more appraising glance before turning to leave. “Hope to see you there… what was your name?”
“Well, Dale, I hope to see you there.”
As she headed out the door Cory piped up. “And I’m Cory. He’s Eli. Nice to meet you and have this very inclusive conversation.” Eli tried, and immediately failed, to contain his laughter. Even Dale chuckled. Eli glanced over at Cory who was wearing his very best shit-eating grin. Pari just shot Cory a glare then walked out.
The moment the door clicked shut behind her, all three boys busted up laughing. Dale was the first to recover. “Cory, you’re horrible.”
“Psh, whatever, I’m wonderful.”
Eli shook his head but kept smiling. “Thank you for that. I sometimes forget why I keep you around.”
“Please. You’d be lost without me.”
Dale laughed again and leaned on the table. “I just can’t believe you said that. She was so pissed at you. Did you see that glare?”
“Dale, I could taste that glare. But some people just need to be put in their place… though really this is all your fault.”
“Woah,” Dale said as he held his hands up defensively. “How did I suddenly become the bad guy.”
“Because,” Cory explained, “the reason we got ignored is because one look at you and she forgot we existed. Really rude of you. Could you please get a few scars on that face of yours to muck up your roguish good looks?”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Eli warned. “He gets a few scars he might just go from roguish to rugged and then every girl will be swooning and we’ll never get any attention.”
Dale rolled his eyes and crossed his arms in his casual manner. Seriously, he looked at ease no matter what he did. Even having just rolled out of bed in nothing but sweats and a tshirt he looked cooler than Eli ever had. “I think you guys are blowing my looks out of proportion. I haven’t even done my hair.”
“And yet, she was clearly digging on you,” Cory countered. “Besides, I can’t tell whenever you do your hair or when you’ve just woken up. It looks the same to me.”
Eli smirked. “I think the difference is when he’s done it up it has the sheen of gel to it. Hard to spot.”
Cory nodded. “That makes sense. It’s less about look and more about how it reflects the light. Like how you can tell the quality of one gem from another.”
Dale, obviously uncomfortable being labeled the pretty boy of the dorm, tried to steer the conversation away. “Whatever. Point is, that girl was rude. And what is up with these packages arriving? I thought Robert moved out. Why would he be mailing a bunch of…” Dale trailed off as he examined the boxes, “Computer… things… to where he no longer lives?”
“Uh…” Eli glanced over to Cory. He had seemed to have some idea of what to say before.
“Oh, those aren’t for Robert. Those are for Robynne.”
Eli took a long, deep breath. He had been hoping for something a little less truthful. It was at moments like this that he wondered why he kept Cory around.
“For… Robynne?” Dale asked. “Um, then why was it delivered here… in Robert’s name?”
“Because,” Cory continued, “Before he left Robynne and Robert were talking about upgrading her rig. That quickly became her planning to just make a new gaming rig entirely. Robert, apparently, subscribed to Online Jungle’s Premium service. He gets a discount on delivery, especially overnight deliveries and a lot of products get a discount. Plus, Robert gets points for ordering stuff online. I’ll bet what they did was Robynne had Robert order it all through his Premium subscription to save some money and Robert got all those points. Pretty smart if you think about it.”
Okay. Eli had to hand it to him. That was a pretty good explanation, especially given how they had set up Robynne and Robert being friends due to their shared hometown. “Yeah, so that’s why they are delivered here.”
“Oh, okay,” Dale said as he nodded his head. “That does make a lot of sense. I mean, hell, look at all this. What is this? Definitely over a thousand bucks worth. That must be a lot of points for Robert… and it can’t hurt to do a favor for a girl that pretty, am I right?”
“Definitely. Especially when she’ll likely be visiting every Christmas.” Eli winced but appreciated that Cory could play this off much more naturally. Eli just kept quiet on the matter and tried to quiet his guilty conscience.
Dale looked over the various items curiously. “So, then, um… Robynne knows how to use all these items to build a computer?”
Cory nodded. “That is the assumption we are making. She’s not really the type of girl who would have someone else build it for her.”
Dale nodded, obviously impressed with the sheer amount of boxes here. “Still… wow. That’s a lot of stuff. I’d be completely lost… she’s a really unique girl.”
Eli didn’t like that look in Dale’s eyes. He was falling more in love with Robynne just talking about her. That was not something Robynne needed to deal with, especially given the new development with Cammy having sent a spy to figure out who Robynne had sent the components to. To discuss that, they’d need private time with her, meaning he’d have to dodge the obvious attempt Dale would make to offer to help them deliver it. “Yeah. She is.”
Dale smiled. “And… a really attractive scarlette. I love scarlettes.”
“So you’ve mentioned.”
“Well, I guess I better get showered then. She’ll probably be over soon to get her stuff. She’ll need some help probably… right?”
Eli shrugged. “Actually, my sister and I were going to deliver it.”
“Oh. Just you two?” Dale scanned the pile of components once more. “You sure? That seems like a lot of stuff and you don’t have a dolly.”
“She has a car.” Eli explained.
Dale’s shoulders sagged. “Ah… well, probably should get showered all the same.”
Cory nodded. “Neither of us would complain.”
Dale chuckled and took a slight bow. “Well, given you’re the only one getting girls to spend the night, I probably should defer to your infinite wisdom.” With that, Dale exited the kitchen and into the bathroom.
Cory straightened up. “I like his attitude. You should be more like him.”
“Shut up. I need to get changed and call Mallory.”
Cory pursed his lips. “Mal? I thought you said she was helping you move it.”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that yet. I said that to prevent Robynne from having to deal with Dale today. She has enough on her mind.”
“Ohhh.” Cory narrowed his eyes in thought. “Your sister isn’t going to like being volunteered.”
“Yeahhhh.” Eli paused. “You willing to make that call for me, buddy?”
Cory laughed. “Psh, no way. That’s your problem. Best of luck to ya, though. I’ll just start moving some of the larger items down the stairs for you two. I’d rather risk throwing out my back than messing with you sister’s Sunday morning.”
Eli let out a long sigh. “Well… poop.”
I haven’t done Cory and Eli stuff for a while and now… I have. So that’s good. I just like being able to do stuff with their voices. They are fun to write. They bring a certain dynamic that I think is missing from a lot of both magical girl stories and TG stories… the perspective of the people who weren’t transformed but still have to deal with it. Plus I can give them some of the more funny situations for them to ponder on as they can’t be 100% certain what Robynne, the Spirit Guard, or the Hush Corps would want.
So yeah, Cammy is spying and trying to figure out who Robynne’s errand boy is. Most people wouldn’t be prepared for such surveillance but Cory and Eli have had a crash course in weirdness. Their mental radars are turned on. I feel I have made a slight mistake in presenting this info to you all just from Eli’s perspective because, from his perspective, this is obvious. But to most people, a cheerleader showing up at their front door advertising some party wouldn’t be suspicious. It’d be weird but not suspicious. I mean, without the info that there is an evil cheer queen, Eli would have just scratched his head and moved on.
As I say that there is one flaw with the argument though: why would Cammy assume Robynne wouldn’t warn whoever her confidant was? I think, quite simply, Cammy views the world in such a way that secrets are a currency and she doesn’t think Robynne would spend it. She’d hide it and, like Cammy, keep as many people in the dark as possible until they needed to know something. And, from a possible perspective, Cammy might not care if Robynne knows she’s being spied on. If she knows she might be watched, Robynne is more likely to behave. That’s the game Cammy plays. Are you discovering a misstep or are you simply being lead to THINK you know something you shouldn’t. Queue up the Princess Bride Iocane Powder scene.
Normally I would have made this chapter longer but I got a lot of positive feedback on the shorter, more frequent chapters during April and May so I’ve decided I’m would try to see if I could keep up a shorter pace. Wish me luck there. Also, there are a few more days for patrons to ask questions for the Q&A, a few more days for the $3 and up patrons to comment on Fan Reel 11, and a few more days for $5 and up patrons to vote on September’s pin-up image! So if you fall into any of those camps, get on over to Patreon and get your questions, comments, and votes in while they still count!