In her hands, Cami held two sheets of paper. One was for an appointment with an academic advisor. The other was a club application sheet. One of these was filled out. Approved, even. The other, meanwhile, had her name on it and nothing else.
Her mother’s car pulled into its usual spot, at the edge of the property. Cami always asked for that specifically. No one could know that her mom picked her up. She was already the one with the fidget toys, the one always at the tutoring centre, the one who showed up late, and the one who stayed late, talking to the professor in a hushed, shaky voice.
It’d be the nail in the coffin of her reputation if people found out she couldn’t drive.
Not that she had much of a reputation. But she would, sooner than later. Because she was going to Club Day tomorrow. She and Jane had spent all week getting a table ready and everything.
Cami pulled open the passenger door and shimmied into the seat. She glanced her mother’s way, and saw the usual: a poised, sharp-faced older woman with a perpetual scowl. Cami had no idea how they were related--even at nineteen, her own face was all sharp edges and round features.
“I was napping when you texted me, you know,” her mother grumbled.
“There was a bus crash,” Cami said. “It was an emergency.”
Truth be told, she didn’t even want to think about waiting for the bus. She had a routine in mind for her Thursdays, and she’d be damned if an accident would get in the way.
Her mother’s car sputtered to life and Cami slipped on her seatbelt. It clicked, which had been her favourite noise back in high school, the noise that meant she was going home. She clicked her tongue, mimicking the sound.
“How was your day?” asked her mother, snapping her back to reality.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Cami mumbled. Wrapping up the second week of her second year shouldn’t have been so draining, but here she was, melting into her seat like an abandoned ice cream cone. “If I can do two weeks, I can do the rest.”
“Aren’t you supposed to come back tomorrow for Club Day?”
Cami shrugged, leaning her head out the window. The wind on her face carried an early autumn chill. Finally, summer was letting up. “That’s not school, though. Not really. I get to spend two hours talking about aliens with Jane.”
Her mother snorted. “You’re founding an aliens club?”
“An unexplained phenomena club,” Cami corrected her. “Jane wouldn’t let me exclude cryptids, so we compromised.”
“You’ve mapped this out, huh?”
Cami nodded, but the lilt in her mother’s voice tipped her off. There was a catch. “What about it?”
Her mother jerked her head to the papers in Cami’s lap. “All this, and you still haven’t even tried to meet with an advisor?”
And there it was, the fatal blow. “I’m bad at multitasking.”
“This isn’t multitasking. This is stopping by the main building and handing in a form. It’s that easy.”
Maybe it was easy for most people, but Cami had resigned from being normal basically at birth. She had a one-track mind, honed in on one thing and chased it like a missile. Most of her days were a rapid-fire deluge of thing after thing after thing, except for the occasional major project that demanded more attention. Like Club Day.
“I’ll get around to it,” Cami offered. It seemed like a decent compromise. “I’ll set an alarm on my phone or something.”
But her mother wasn’t satisfied. “And you’re filling it out tonight.”
Because of who she was as a person, it took ten minutes for her to fill out the simple, one-page form, getting her thoughts together not unlike herding cats. She’d contemplated asking her mother to turn down the TV, but didn’t want to seem rude, even as the murmur of dialogue in the next room spilled over the words she wrote, mixed and melted into them.
Her handwriting was all but chicken scratch, and all the erasing and rewriting sure didn’t help, but she could read it, which would have to be enough. Cami leapt from her seat with a cry of triumph, slamming her fist down on the dining room table.
From the living room, she heard her mother chuckle. “Our table isn’t your personal punching bag, Camilla. Are you done?”
Camilla. She'd never liked being called that, but she brushed it off.
Cami raced over, holding the paper up like it was a trophy. “Look! All done. Can I invite Jane over now? We need to go over Club Day stuff.” Realistically, Cami knew she was an adult and probably didn’t need to tell people her every move, but it was still her mother’s house. You didn’t bring anyone in without her permission, not even your best friend who she treated as a second child.
Her mother gave her an unreadable look--though to be fair, most looks from most people were unreadable to Cami. “Sure. Call her up.”
Normally, she’d correct her mother on how she and her friends were strictly texters, but she was too excited to bother. She tore her phone from her jean pocket, hammered out a quick Come over!!, and raced off to tidy up. She had a bit of time before Jane arrived, anyway. Her brother always used the second car on Thursdays, so she was stuck with transit.
Fortunately, the bedroom was still pretty clean. She tidied up every Tuesday, and it showed. The only real mess was all the dust left from her latest whittling project, which sat on her desk now, staring at her sadly. It was supposed to be a lion, but everything past the mane was still submerged in the wooden block. Cami resisted the urge to work on it: that’d just make more mess.
Of course, it’d never get done if she kept shirking it.
It was almost like blacking out: one minute, she’d been going for the broom and dustpan. The next, she was finishing up the front paws of her sculpture.
“Dammit,” she mumbled.
Fortunately, the dustpan was right beside her and it was an easy enough mess to clean up.
The only other thing in disarray in Cami’s room was her music book. It held a bunch of hastily-printed guitar tabs for songs she liked, and she tried to practice them at least once a week in hopes that one day she’d be able to pull out a guitar at a campfire and serenade someone. It was pretty high on her bucket list.
I haven’t practiced this week, she thought. Shit.
Except she still had Friday, didn’t she? No use getting distracted again.
And just like that, she’d cleaned her room. Take that, world. I can be productive.
Now she just had an hour to kill.
Cami’s legs moved on their own, down to the kitchen. She realized, belatedly, that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast, save for a donut from the school cafeteria right before class, which she hadn’t even finished.
A rational person, considering the sun was easing its way beneath the trees, would’ve gotten a start on dinner. Cami was not a rational person. She was a hopeless sweet tooth with a hankering for chocolate chip cookies.
In fact, it didn’t really hit her what she was doing until she heard her mother ask from the other room, “Wasn’t it my turn to cook dinner?”
“It is!” Cami replied. By this point, she’d gotten the dough onto the pan. There was no turning back. “I’m just borrowing the oven. Can you make something on the stove?”
“Don’t tell me you’re baking again.”
Cami said nothing. If she said nothing, she couldn’t be berated.
In fact, her mother stayed quiet until she said, “Jane’s at the door.”
Already? Cami thought. She tore her eyes from the oven to see the sky blushing pink outside. Well, time flies when you’re making cookies.
She looked around for her phone. Jane always texted when she got off the bus and started walking. Oh, well. She’d probably just left it upstairs.
Jane came through the door, and Cami immediately attacked her with a bear hug.
“We survived the second week!” she exclaimed, squeezing until Jane pulled back. She had that look on her face, with the narrow eyes and crooked grin, that Cami knew all too well: the you’re nuts as ever look.
“Last I checked, it’s Thursday, and we still have to make it through Club Day unscathed,” she reminded her.
Cami scoffed. “We’re just gonna be at our table, telling people about the Paranormal Club. It won’t be anything like last year.”
“Ugh. Don’t even remind me of last year,” Jane muttered, shuddering.
Being a freshman at club day was like being dead meat in a shark pool. Seasoned club presidents could practically smell the newness on you, and saw it as a vulnerability. While you were looking down at your campus map or taking in the size of the courtyard, they pounced:
“Wanna learn 3D printing?”
“Ever tried acapella?”
“Want to compete in poetry slams?”
“If you need spare volunteer hours, join our club!”
In the end, Cami had bailed after about twenty minutes. All the people coming at her had left her overwhelmed, and she’d cried it out in the cafeteria bathroom.
“It’ll be different,” Cami insisted, convincing herself as much as her friend. “For starters, we won’t be walking around. We’ll just be at our table.”
Jane scoffed. “Shouldn’t be too hard. I printed out all that stuff you wrote, stuck it on the postboard.”
“The glitter wasn’t excessive, right?”
“Not at all. Gives it… personality.”
The two laughed at that. Cami’s mother cleared her throat, which was probably her way of saying, I’m trying to watch TV, please shut up or move.
“Hi, Brielle,” Jane said, throwing in a half-hearted peace sign. “How’s, uh, life?”
Cami’s mother snorted. “Well, it was quiet.”
“Sorry,” Cami cut in. She and Jane raced off, up the stairs in near-perfect sync. There’d been a while in elementary school where people had thought the two of them were siblings. Not because they looked alike--Cami was white and Jane was Native, so that was out of the question--but because they were consistently on the same wavelength. Whenever Cami had a nonverbal episode, Jane more or less became her interpreter. And whenever Jane needed someone to ground her anxious moods, Cami was her rock.
“Tell me about your classes,” Cami said, shutting her bedroom door. Jane was already curled up on her bed.
“Oh, wow, where should I start?” Jane stroked her chin, grinning. “How about with the fact that I’m first on the waitlist for 21st Century Literature, and someone dropped it last night?”
Cami squealed. Finally, a familiar face in one of her classes. “I was so scared you wouldn’t get in!” She exclaimed. A surge of joy set her into motion, her hands flapping. “And it counts as that English credit you need, right?”
“Yep. It was either that or Shakespeare, so I’m really glad I’m with you.” She beamed. “Otherwise, it’s the same as usual, really. Second-year psych is nice, because it’s already mostly people I’ve had classes with, so I know who I want for group projects. I also finally got into that production technology class, and I might be working lights for the first time since high school!”
Cami chuckled. “We aren’t gonna have another Grease Incident, are we?”
“One time!” Jane blushed. “I don’t get shaky when I’m nervous anymore, so don’t worry about it. Anyways!” She clapped her hands together, eager to change the subject. “How are your classes?”
“About what you’d expect,” Cami said, shrugging. “Gender and Pop Culture is taught by an eccentric bisexual woman, which I adore. Creative Writing is a total hippie who makes us meditate at the start of every class, which--”
“Meditate?” Jane cut in. “Like… a mindfulness session?”
Cami nodded. “It’s my worst nightmare. I have to close my eyes and listen to a bunch of people breathe around me.”
“Do you at least learn anything?”
“Workshops start next month, so we’ll be getting feedback.” Cami squirmed where she stood. “We just got out of school, wanna talk about something else?”
Jane snickered. “Aren’t you glad to be back? Summer felt like a blur. And not in a good way.”
Surprisingly, Cami knew what she meant. Whenever she thought back to the summer, her mind drew a blank. It was like trying to walk through a wall. She tried not to dwell on it. “Wanna unwind with a jam session or something?”
“Wait, there’s one more thing. Which...” Jane trailed off, frowning. “Shit. I left it downstairs. And it’s soap opera hour for your mom, isn’t it?”
Cami gave her a mock-salute. “If you don’t come back, I’ll tell your family you got mauled by a bear or something.”
“We don't have bears!” Jane said with a laugh before disappearing.
While Jane was gone, Cami set things up. It was simple enough: two chairs, two amps, and both their instruments. The bass was Jane’s, but she never played it at home. The Cardinal household was a quiet place, both parents hard at work in their shared study. Jane had brought it over once to avoid disrupting them, and it’d stayed right next to Cami’s hand-me-down electric. The two were a sight to behold, sitting next to each other: one new and shiny, the other… not so much.
Cami was just plugging in her guitar when Jane reemerged, something dark and bulky in her hands: a posterboard.
“I used all the text and pics you had,” she said, spreading it out on the floor, “and we were missing a title, so I improvised.”
Jane had outdone herself. The thing had three different panels: one for the club’s purpose, one describing some local supernatural events, and one with the obligatory interactive aspect. Cami had panicked for that, and it kind of showed. The Fresno Nightcrawler, Mothman, and Bigfoot all stared at her under the speech bubble captioned NAME ALL THREE FOR A PRIZE!
The prize in question was nothing special. Cami had grabbed some dollar store candies and called it a day. That was standard for new clubs. Once you worked your way up, you got bookmarks, pins, maybe even themed pens. That was the lap of luxury.
“I think it’s catchy,” Jane said, and Cami finally glanced up to the title: FREAKSPOTTERS.
“I love it,” Cami breathed. “Super catchy.”
The two of them fist-bumped, picked up their instruments, and filled the neighbourhood with mediocre indie covers until the sun was gone and, with no competition, Cami’s old lightbulbs dyed the room sepia.
After a while, Jane said, “I should probably get home. Big day tomorrow.”
“Let’s head into it together,” Cami offered. Truth was, she didn’t want the night to end. “When was the last time you stayed over, anyway?”
“The week you filled your room with glow-in-the-dark stars and UFOs,” Jane deadpanned. “I can’t sleep with everything so… lit up.”
“Exactly.” Cami sprang from her seat and ransacked her desk. She’d left it somewhere around here.
“Oh no,” Jane muttered, just as Cami exclaimed, “A-ha!”
She nabbed the gift and thrust it towards Jane.
“It’s an eye mask!” she declared. And it was a rather nice one: a cool, black silky texture, with the words SHUT UP embroidered on in white. “Now you’ve gotta sleep over.”
Jane took it, ran her fingers along the letters. “It’s beautiful.”
“Right up your alley, huh?”
She chuckled, trying it on. “Pitch black.”
“I’d hope so.”
Jane pulled the mask down to rest around her neck. “Thanks, Cam. We’re gonna kick ass tomorrow.”
“Hell yeah we will,” Cami agreed, smiling. “We’re starting this year off right.”