A revisiting of the courtship of Cameron and Chloe with, you know, better characters and whatnot. The LB version with Fred's commentary is here and here.Cameron’s head was buzzing as he made his way through the airport. The last time he’d felt anything remotely like this was during the ‘MaGog’ incident. The official explanation then was a sophisticated, multi-tiered computer virus code-named MaGog disabled the entire Russian and Iranian war machines in the middle of a strike against Israel. The reality was planes falling from the sky, missiles detonating harmlessly in mid-flight, and a tiny nation escaping the wrath of a former superpower totally unscathed. Any explanation seemed too small for the scale of what he witnessed. Every attempted explanation just made the whole thing seem bigger and more frightening.
Now, it was the massive, world-wide disappearances of every child, as well as a small number of adults, mostly Americans. All anyone could call it was “The Event”, and while there was some official claim of electro-magnetic radiation, once more, the reality was too big for such a small explanation. And every small answer just showed how big this event was.
Cameron was meeting an airline pilot who was in the air at the time of the Event. Cameron hoped the pilot might have seen something, or heard something, or noticed something on his instruments. Clues about the Event had been scarce so far, and Cameron had a deadline for filing his story. Fortunately, he’d met a flight attendant who knew the captain, trading a meet-and-greet with the new U.N. Sec-Gen for the interview. An uneven trade probably, but if this captain could break the story, no one would care about the U.N. for weeks.
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He'd almost reached the Pan-Con lounge when he spotted the flight attendant chatting with a man he thought was the pilot from the Event flight. A young, waifish girl stood next to them. As Cameron walked up, Captain Rayford Steele extended his hand.
“So you’re the writer for Global Weekly who was on my plane?” He turned to the airport lounge attendant. “He’s with us.”
Cameron was going to make a quip about ‘your plane? I think the airlines might disagree’ but he looked closer at the young woman and all thoughts left his head. That nervous buzzing he’d felt for the last week, that feeling of uncertain ground under his feet, the nameless fear that could only come from billions of children vanishing in an instant, all of that was blown away by the sight of this young woman next to the airline captain.
“What did you want to interview me about?” the captain asked
Cameron was in his 30’s and had spent his entire adult life and most of his adolescence learning the trade of a reporter. He’d interviewed supermodels backstage in fashion-show changing rooms and spoken to Prime Ministers over coffee, but until now, he’d only ever really related to people as parts of a story he was researching or writing. Something changed inside him when The Event happened, something that had lain dormant until the sight of this young woman. Cameron realized he hadn’t answered the captain’s question.
“I – I want your take on the disappearances. I’m working on a cover story, collecting theories on what happened. You were an eye-witness to the event, on a sealed, isolated plane, sitting in front of a bank of instruments and controls. I was hoping you might have some insight, and at the very least, I think your perspective would make for good copy.”
The captain smiled, seemed to think of something, and smiled even broader.
“Well Mr. Williams, only if you can join us all for dinner after.”
Cameron’s heart raced. The ‘us’ he referred to evidently included the young lady!
“You bet!” Cameron said, “I think I missed an introduction. Is this your…daughter?” He hoped he had come across as nonchalant, but he doubted it.
“Oh, right! Yes, this is my daughter Chloe. Chloe, “Buck” Williams of Global Weekly. He’s a reporter, so watch what you say!” Rayford said, grinning. He wasn’t blind; that young reporter looked shell-shocked when he first looked at Chloe. “I need a few minutes to talk to Hattie; why don’t we meet back here in say, ten minutes?”
Rayford figured the reporter wanted a chance to talk to Chloe for purely unprofessional reasons, but he trusted his daughter, and knew she had a sharp wit. If “Buck” put one foot wrong, she’d take his head and mount it on a wall. He turned to Hattie, and motioned towards the lounge.
“So how do you know my dad again?” Chloe asked
“Actually, I don’t.” Cameron said, turning to stroll down the airport’s shopping concourse, “I saw him briefly get off the plane after the Event, but really Hattie’s the one who introduced us.”
“I see… and how do you know Ms. Durham, the flight attendant?” Chloe probed, one eyebrow raised.
“She caught me fiddling with my laptop and… wait. I was trying to jack into the planes’… hold on. She caught me fooling around with the plane's…” Cameron was starting to blush. Something about the impish look Chloe had was very… suggestive, and suddenly even the most innocent explanations seemed to sound equally suggestive. Cameron had shared plenty of bawdy jokes before, but suddenly he wanted desperately not to sound even remotely lewd to this young woman.
“OK, let me start over. I don’t really know her either, except that she was on the plane during the Event too, and while everything was pretty chaotic after we landed, I was able to talk to her a little. A good reporter tries to cultivate potential leads and sources.”
“Hmm….” Chloe’s curiosity seemed appeased by his answers. Cameron felt a little calmer and more steady.
“So what kind of a name is “Buck” anyhow?”
There went the calm…
“Hey, I thought I was the world-class reporter? Why are you getting all the questions in?”
“Maybe you should be glad that a pretty young girl is interested in you. And I’m not getting all the questions in; you just asked two. Try to keep up! Now, what about that name?” She tossed her hair over one shoulder, pursed her lips, and fixed him with a curious stare.
Cameron slowed his walk, trying to regain mental equilibrium, failed, and decided to keep walking for a bit.
“It’s a nickname. A really annoying one actually. My real name is Cameron.”
“OK, Cameron. How’d you get the nickname?”
Cameron turned slightly, and walked into a gourmet bakery shop. This pretty girl was also smart; the only way he had a chance of getting to know anything about her was if she had her mouth full so he could ask her some questions. He bought two cookies while he talked.
“Well Chloe, I love my job. I’ve always loved investigating and writing and reporting. I was the dorky kid at 12 with the home printing-press. I worked on the high school newspaper.”
“Photo-journalism? Did they call you Cam-with-the-cam? Cam-Cam?” Chloe asked, nearly giggling.
‘Coquettish’ Cameron thought, ‘I’ve never really used that word before, but I think I know exactly what it means.’
“Eat your cookie.” Cameron replied, “Yes, actually they did. The first of many annoying nicknames, and one reason I didn’t go into photo-journalism or AV and stuck with print journalism instead. I was on the high school newspaper, did summer work with the local paper, and went into journalism straight from college. I actually started college summer term; didn’t even take any time off from high school. I got an internship with a major syndicate, spent a year covering the national elections, and got to spend another year in Europe as part of an exchange program. When I got back, my old college editor got me a job with Global Weekly; about what you’d expect for a starting college grad, but it was with GW, so I was excited.”
Cameron paused, took a bite of his own cookie, and waited until Chloe had done the same. He definitely wanted her mouth full before he continued.
“My first day on the job, I got introduced. The section editor I worked for had me stand up in the staff meeting, and played the voice mail from my college editor to introduce me. My college editor was about 60 years old, and I think his brain was transplanted from someone about 100 years old from the way he talked. So I’m standing in front of the staff on my first day, and my introduction is a recording of this grizzled old man’s praise of “I’m ah-sendin’ you boys a bright young buck!” Everyone just about died laughing. “young buck”? Who talks like that? It probably would have died out as a nickname, but when they found out…”
“Found out what?”
Chloe looked over at Cameron, who had stopped strolling. He had looked embarrassed a few times in the conversation, but once he started talking, he seemed to relax. Only now, it seemed like he had said too much, and hadn’t realized what he’d led up to. She realized her quick-witted-sharp-tongued-girl routine might need to be toned down if she was going to get him to continue.
“Tell me. I promise I won’t laugh… much.” Buck turned his head away. Was he actually blushing? Chloe looked at her cookie, still warm from the bakery, and took a large, careless bite, deliberately smearing some melted chocolate along her lips and cheek, before speaking again, this time around a mouthful of cookie.
“I pwomise I wilw take dis seriouswy!” She held up one hand in a mock oath as Cameron looked back. He paused a beat before smiling and laughing.
“OK, OK” he said, and reached out to wipe chocolate off of her cheek with his thumb. “The whole ‘young buck’ thing probably wouldn’t have stuck as a nickname, but one night we all went out after work. They grilled me about my past”, he shot a mock-accusatory glance at Chloe at that, “and they found out I’m a virgin.”
Chloe noted his use of the present tense, but kept her face still.
“Well, after that, 'Young Buck' seemed a lot funnier to them. The first few weeks I was annoyed by it, but I realized that you don’t give nicknames to people you hate, and they were just trying to make me feel at home. In their own small, mean-spirited way." He was gesturing with his free hand. "Besides, there are worse nicknames. Cameron is Spanish for ‘shrimp’, for one. Better a ‘buck’ than a ‘shrimp’, right?”
“You still have chocolate on your thumb.” Chloe deadpanned as she turned towards the airport lounge. “I think we should head back; my dad should be done with his conversation with Hattie. You ready for your one-on-one, Buck?”
She looked back over her shoulder to see Cameron with his thumb in his mouth, probably licking the chocolate off; she tried to make her smile and glance look light and flirty so he knew her teasing wasn’t mean-spirited. Judging by the pole-axed look on his face, all he knew for sure was that he was out of his league when it came to flirting.
Author's note: I shot my mouth off in a comment thread about how it should be possible to write the courtship between Cameron and Chloe in a way that would still be chaste and 'Christian' and still be realistic. So now I'm trying to put my money where my mouth is. And naturally, I have no experience or practice writing romance. Chloe needs to be more of the young college student: educated, flirty, the kind of woman who could travel across the country, post-Event and be relatively unscathed. Meanwhile, CallMeBuck has to have reasons to
a.) still be a virgin
b.) want to pursue a chaste, 'proper' courtship
c.) appear to be a horribly incompitent reporter
And if I can rehabilitate Rayford even a little around the edge, well, that's just gravy.