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Chapter 7, Part 2: Let The Shipping Begin


So off they went to Little Storm Traintacks, the smaller of the park's two coasters. Eric loaded in next to her in the front row with Duncan behind them. Eric could see that Jessie had a death grip on the safety bar and was shaking with nerves, trying her best to control them. Eric gently placed his hand on hers, giving her a startled little jump.

“It'll be ok. I'm going to be here next to you the whole time. It'll be fine, I promise.”

Her shaking stopped the moment he placed his hand on hers and instead her cheeks tinged at his words. She wasn't sure if the sudden thumping of her heart was from his touch or her anxiety over the ride, but afraid it may have been the former, she immediately looked away from his caring gaze and tried her best to shake the blush from her face.

Eric threw a knowing glance to Duncan who scowled at the action but stayed silent. He was helpless in the row behind them. In a moment, they were off. The train rounded a corner and up the first hill. Jessie held her breath tight as they hit the crest and in a moment, the little train was whizzing around the fake mountains and through its tunnels. It didn't take long for the train to return to its station, but when it did, Jessie found she had a smile of awe to compliment her wind-mussied hair.

“I take it you enjoyed it afterall,” Duncan said as they unloaded. Jessie just nodded in agreement. The goofy smile was still on her face. “On to the Rocket Cars, right?”

“Right!” she shouted, throwing her fist in the air.

“And this time, I'll sit next to you, alright?” Duncan asked. He had decided with only a few rides left in their day, he'd have to try a different tactic. Eric wasn't about to argue with Jessie over who would sit next to her, no-- she'd automatically defer to Duncan because Eric would come off as selfish. Either way, by asking first, Duncan wins.

“Sure, let's go!” Jessie replied, missing the silent exchange of threatening glances between the boys yet again.

Moments later the trio arrived at the Rocket Cars queue in the Futuretown area of the park only to find the ride was closed. The track ran all over Futuretown and through several other rides and was supposed to be pretty popular when it opened, or so Jessie had heard, but for some reason it was closed this day. They were greeted by a locked door and an old faded sign out front.

Jessie walked up to it and read aloud, “Rocket Cars is closed for refurbishment and enhancement. Re-Opening Spring 2001.”

“2001? But it's 2014...” Eric said, astonished that it'd been down for so long.

“Well that's a disappointment. I guess we should move on to the Spook Plantation,” Duncan suggested.

“Yeah... that's too bad. Spook Plantation is way on the other side of the park from here, but there's a train station right next to it. Let's just take the train,” Jessie suggested to two nods of approval.

They hiked their way through Futuretown towards the nearest train platform and after a scenic view around the entirety of Zany Heights, they arrived back in Olvera Street Square, right next to their spooky destination.

In front of the group loomed a big mansion with a sprawling garden out front that doubled as the queue. Bushes were cut in the shapes of animals and the occasional gravestone marked the medians as they made their way to the front doors of the plantation itself. All the while, spooky music played through speakers cleverly hidden throughout the garden.

The boys silently decided that now would be the perfect time to make a move. When Jessie got scared, they each thought they'd be right there to hold her in the dark and comfort her. Eric was the first to try his luck.

“Hey Jessie, don't be ashamed to grab my arm if you get scared in here,” he offered with a sly look on his face.

“Oh please, I'm not THAT much of a wimp.” Jessie knew this place was designed to be all in good fun. Nothing here could *really* scare her, she thought.

“Ooh, shot down again,” Duncan said under his breath, stepping behind Eric. “Maybe you should just give up. You can't hold a candle to me when it comes to protecting her.”

Eric simply frowned and pressed on. He had to think of something new or he might lose to Duncan afterall. Much to his dismay, the ride cars were all single occupancy, so Jessie rode alone. Several minutes later they'd been through the spooky mansion and all of its creepy corridors and were back outside in the land of the living, with only one ride left.

The epic outer-space roller coaster adventure of Futuretown, Star Hill.

But the moment Duncan bought it up, Jessie's fears returned in full.

“We, uh... we just did a couple of slow rides in a row, so maybe we should do something exciting to get me back in the spirit. Boost my confidence as we make our way back to Futuretown.” Jessie was good at bargaining to put off the scary inevitability but was fighting to calm her twisted nerves that she was sure was the cause of her stomach cramps.

“Sounds good to me. What should we do?” Duncan asked.

“Let's just walk our way back and hit a few things on the way.”

Jessie nodded at Eric's suggestion and the group began walking all the way back to Futuretown from Olvera Street Square. Along the way they passed by Liz Darren Adventures again and decided to give it another go, this time with Duncan winning the seat next to Jessie. The same thing happened again when they re-boarded Little Storm Traintrack. Eric won out for Space Cruises.

Finally, after an hour of procrastination, they were right back where they started. Jessie gulped as she gazed at the giant rocket marking the entrance to the queue. The sheer size of the rocket made Jessie feel like she was shrinking, all the while her heart was sinking. She wasn't sure if she could go through with this afterall; the biggest ride in the park was also the most intimidating. She nearly jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder, snapping her out of her self-induced panic attack.

“Jessie, you're shaking. There's really no need to be so scared, it's just a ride like any other. Besides,” Duncan paused, turning to Eric behind him to make sure he heard, “I'll be next to you the whole time. You know you can trust me to protect you.”

Jessie reluctantly nodded in agreement before Duncan suddenly took her by the wrist. “C'mon, let's go!”

Duncan pulled her almost at a jog, making it hard for Eric to keep up as they begin winding their way up the dark blue corridors that made up the queue. As they climbed their way into the space station, ambient spacey sound effects slowly built up the anxiety and the pounding in Jessie's heart. Soon enough they made it to the landing station where several people in neon jumpsuits guided guests into the space coaster's cars under glowing black lights.

“Three? You guys can go up front, row 1,” the crew member said, pointing them to their spot alongside the track with two fingers. Eric was afraid that with Duncan guiding her along, he wouldn't get the chance to sit near Jessie, but was glad to see that the coaster seated three people per row.

“I-I'll just... go in the middle, if you guys don't mind...” Jessie's voice was quivering slightly as she struggled to keep her cool.

Duncan wasn't too pleased that he'd have to share the last ride of the day with Eric but wasn't about to let that ruin this experience for the apple of his eye. “Sure thing, Jess. If anyone flies out and gets lost in space, it'll be us.”

Duncan and Eric couldn't help but laugh at the look of horror that came across their poor adorable friends' face at the joke.

They loaded in, Duncan first and Eric last, and in a matter of seconds, their rocket rounded a corner past a room marked 'control tower'. Jessie has a death grip on the safety bar pressed tightly into her lap. They entered a tunnel and slowly began to climb as speakers behind their ears counted them down to lift-off. The tunnel began spinning with lights shooting down past them, tension building as the laser sound effects rose and rose as the ship entered hyperspace until finally they crested the hill at the top of the tunnel.

There was a brief moment of serenity as they looked out around themselves, seeing nothing but stars in the distance, the darkness hiding the track entirely from view.

“It's... it's almost beautifu—AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

Jessie was cut off mid-thought by the sudden drop. In her panic, her death grip moved from her safety bar to Duncan's arm. She couldn't even open her eyes.

They went through tight curves and as they approached a big twisting loop, Duncan thought he might encourage his frightened friend. “Open your eyes, we're about to go through the loop!”

She peaked out just in time to see the stars around her spin as the coaster made the loop, twisting around before hitting a few more curves and finally leveling out a bit. Bright lights flashed marking the end of their flight and the rocket glided safely back into the launch platform, ready to go again.

It took a moment before Jessie could be brought back to Earth and release her grip on Duncan's now sore arm.

“S-sorry...” she blushed, ashamed at what she did in her moment of weakness.

“It's fine, really,” he assured her, totally chuffed by his victory. “What'd you think of it?”

“M-my legs are weak.”

Eric felt like he was being ignored again. Seeing the way Jessie clinged to Duncan in the ride photo he bought (against Jessie's will, mind) really made Eric feel like he'd lost. That was the final blow. In her moment of fear, in her moment of *need*, Jessie had subconsciously chosen Duncan over him. The war was lost.

“Hey guys, why don't we go get a snack or something and call it a day? I think there's an ice cream parlor just outside the park in the Towne Stroll area. Let's relax over some ice cream before we head back to the dorms.” If he couldn't win her heart, the least he could do was be gracious in defeat. “I'm buyin'. Even for you, Duncan.”

Duncan looked at him in confusion but seeing the look of defeat upon his face, he understood that Eric was conceding. Duncan was almost proud at the mature way Eric was handling his defeat.

“Thanks, Eric.”

Eric simply nodded in understanding.

“Sounds like a good idea... I really need to collect myself after that.” Jessie was still struggling to walk without bracing her hand on Eric's shoulder, too shy at having grabbed Duncan's arm like that to use him as a crutch.

Eric sighed. “Me too, Jessie. Me too.”

The area just outside the park entrance was themed to be like a miniature version of a bustling city's downtown strip, with specialty shops, restaurants, and even a movie theater and bowling alley lining the path. It wasn't long before they stopped at the ice cream parlor right next to a big video game store.

“What are you guys going to get?” Duncan asked. The three had been staring up at the menu hanging over the teller's counter for over a minute now, like confused chickens staring up at a storm with their mouths wide open.

“Oh hey, they have parfaits here! I've never had anything like that before...” Jessie was surprised to see it on the menu.

“Why not?” Eric asked.

Jessie shyly leaned in and said quietly, so Duncan couldn't hear, “Well... I'd always been told that they were girly, y'know? So I never got the chance.”

“But after what happened with your parents, don't you think you should embrace that side of you, just a little? Be yourself. Try new things. You may end up loving it. Who cares if it's girly? It won't hurt your 'guy' persona in the slightest. Guys can like parfaits too, y'know. This isn't some anime or something.”

Jessie found Eric's words encouraging. He was right. She may not really like that she's a girl now, but she's not going to let her fears of breaking her gender roles stop her from enjoying something as simple as foodstuffs.

“I'll have a parfait, then. The vanilla and strawberry one, please,” Jessie said, turning to the clerk.

After all three had ordered, they decided to find a seat together and before a real conversation could even get started, a server came by with a banana split, a root beer float, and a parfait in a tall glass with layers of strawberry swirled into the sweet vanilla fluff.

Jessie's eyes widened at the sight of the treat in front of her. She tentatively grabbed her spoon and dipped it in. The light creamy flavor completely overwhelmed her senses. She'd never had anything like it before. Her eyes lit up and her cheeks were full with a grin as she took another bite, and another, and another.

“Woah, slow down there, you're going to get a tummy ache,” Duncan said, reminding Jessie of the discomfort in her gut that'd been gnawing away at her all day. She'd managed to put out of her mind somehow but now she was more aware of it than ever.

“Heh, sorry. You're right. I've just... never had anything like this before. It's so sweet, I can't help it~!”

She dove right into it, trying carefully to curb her excitement at her newfound pleasure and pace herself. She didn't want to finish it too fast. The fast motion of her attacking the glass caused her fringe to slide down in front of her face but before she could catch it, Eric's hand was up, offering to fix it.

“Here, let me get that for you,” Eric said, sliding his hand gently across her forehead and guiding her hair safely behind her ear. “Don't want it to get in your parfait.”

Jessie was surprised and embarrassed by the action, to the point where she couldn't look Eric in the eye. She was stunned by it, unsure what to think. “T-thanks Eric but I could have done that myself.”

“No worries, just offering to help.” He gave a sweet smile.

“I guess my hair has gotten a little longer. It's been a while since it was last cut. What do you guys think, is it too shaggy?” she fretted, pulling a lock in front of her eyes and staring at it.

Both boys looked her textured bob over and shook their heads. It wasn't down to her shoulders yet but it was getting there. They, of course, didn't mind the look. It framed her face so well.

“Oh well. I can go a little longer, I suppose.”

Duncan slid his root beer float up the table. “I'll be right back, I just need to hit the head,” he said, sliding out of the booth he shared with Eric and walking off.

Eric was grateful for the moment alone with Jessie.

“So... Duncan, eh? What do you think of him?”

“Hmm? He's an alright guy. Typical 'bad guy with a heart of gold'. Why do you ask?”

“Well it just seems that you two are spending a lot of time together lately, and I can't help but be worried for you. He is a bully, afterall. And sharing a room with him? Aren't you afraid he'll find out you're a girl?”

Jessie nervously looked around, hoping that nobody overheard. “You really don't have to worry about him. He's really nice when you get to know him, and he's helped me in more ways than one. I think I'm probably a good influence on him as well, seeing how I got him to make up with Roger.”

“Who?”

“You know, the emo kid he was picking on. When's the last time you saw Duncan bullying someone? Mayhaps the bully is a bully no more,” Jessie said with a wink. “And what about you? Haven't you been getting along today?”

Eric sighed realizing that Jessie had missed nearly everything since the arcade. 'Her naivete is going to be her undoing,' he thought to himself before going on with her delusion. “Yeah, I suppose. Turns out we both have something nice in common.”

“Oh? What's that?” Jessie said with her spoon cutely between her lips, mid-bite.

“You.”

Jessie coughed.

“W-what do you mean, me? As a mutual friend?”

“Well that, but...” Eric stopped himself, unsure if he should continue his thought. “You know Jessie... you really are adorable.” Eric stared at her with those soft doe eyes, resting his cheek in his palm on the table. “It's really hard to understand why you pretend to be a boy when you're so... charming. After you had that moment with your parents, you seem to have really opened up.”

“Really? How so?” She was caught a bit off guard by the sudden compliment, unsure of how to take such unmanly praise, but she was weary of how his soft gaze seemed to look deep inside her. She wasn't sure how to respond.

“You're just so much more talkative and cheerful and confident. I don't know if that was what caused it, but you seem like you're really... comfortable with yourself lately. I don't know how else to put it.”

Jessie blushed, unsure if this was a compliment or just a general observation from her friend. “Thanks, I guess. After that night I thought things were going to get more hectic in my life but really, things got a bit calmer I suppose. I don't know. I'm content right now, even if there's some awkward things to deal with.”

“I'm glad to hear that you're happy at least. Why do you do it, anyway? Pretend to be a boy, that is.” He casually scooped a bit of banana and vanilla into his mouth.

“I- I just do, ok? It's how I was raised. It's how I've always thought I should be.” she knew he'd never believe that magic was involved, but this wasn't exactly a lie. She's just doing what she's supposed to, as far as she's concerned.

“I can't really see you as a boy at all. You're just so... cute as a girl.”

Jessie blushed hard and broke eye contact with Eric. 'D-did he just call me cute? A cute girl?! This is getting really uncomfortable really fast...' she thought to herself. 'He can't be interested in me, can he? I'm a guy! That's just... I can't!'

“C-can we change the subject, please? I'm a guy and that's how I'm supposed to be. That's all there is to it.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” Eric said, bringing his bowl to his mouth to drink the last of his melted treat.

A thick tension set over the table in silence. Something Duncan picked up on when he returned but was afraid to acknowledge.

“Soooo uh...” he started, afraid to ask what caused his friends' sullen faces. “Turns out there's a karaoke place next door. Saw it from the window as I was walking by. You guys down?”

Jessie immediately responded with a resounding, “Yes!” She was afraid of where conversation might turn if she were left alone with Eric, so she jumped at any excuse for a group activity. “Sounds like a good way to end the night. I've still got plenty of money so we should be good.”

Eric nodded along in silent agreement.

Jessie walked closer to Duncan through the twilight of the setting sun as they made their way into the karaoke parlor next door. They paid for an hour and crossed the somewhat empty lobby until they found their room. It was a smaller room with soundproofed walls and a long couch lining them, a table with a bar menu and song book, and finally, a small stage complete with two microphones, a monitor between them, and accompanying lights and speakers.

They ordered some snacks to be brought to their room and began digging methodically through the song book. Jessie felt unsure of how to handle Eric after such an invasive conversation so she hung around Duncan and didn't make much smalltalk with Eric between songs.

Both boys were completely silent when it came time for Jessie to sing. It made her nervous that they were paying such close attention to her, so she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and imagined they weren't there. When she opened her eyes again three minutes and one ballad later, she found the boys wide-eyed and staring right at her in silence for a moment before erupting in applause.

“Wow, Jessie your voice is... astounding...” Eric blurted out.

“Did you take singing lessons as a kid or something?” Duncan asked.

Jessie blushed from the embarrassment and tried to wave their compliments off with her hand.

“You're too kind, it couldn't have been all that good. You guys sang just as well. Duncan, you're up,” she said, hopping off the little stage.

Duncan passed her and stepped up while Jessie plopped down on the couch across from Eric, immediately diving for the fried mushrooms and chicken tenders on the table. She popped a couple of mushrooms in her mouth before grabbing a tender, and after she swallowed, carefully began blowing on the chicken to cool it down.

Duncan started his next song, belting it out like nobody was watching. He yelled and swung his head around to the beat, busting all the best dance moves he had and having a great time of it. Jessie casually watched the spectacle while she snacked until Eric decided to quietly make a move.

“You really do have an amazing voice, Jessie. Like an angel.”

She looked at him, at those big caring eyes, but turned away hoping to use the food as an excuse to avoid conversation. She didn't mean to be rude but she didn't really want to talk to him alone right now, not after the ice cream parlor. Eric's line of questioning was way too personal. Jessie wasn't sure she could think of any more responses to questions about her parents or her lifestyle.

Was he jealous? Probably, but he didn't have to be. She spent time with him at school, every day at lunch, and sometimes they'd chat between classes. What was he so worked up about lately? Why was he trying to interrogate her about being a boy? She didn't know why but she was not really in a mood to discuss it. So she watched on, casually snacking, hoping to ignore him best she could.

“What'd you guys think? Gotta love the rock stuff, gets ya pumped! I'm good to go again!” Duncan said, hopping down and catching his breath. He bee-lined straight for his tea and drank nearly half of it in one go.

“You can go Jessie, I think I'm going to sit this one out. Recover my voice a bit.”

Eric gingerly sipped his soda.

Being shut down by Jessie was really starting to get to Eric. He wanted to be closer; to know her better than anyone else. Especially better than Duncan. It hurt to see that he was losing her every moment to someone else, someone he never liked and, in his eyes, definitely didn't deserve her..

His feelings for Jessie had only skyrocketed in the time they'd been together since he discovered her secret. Every day at lunch. Seeing her in that cute little outfit on gym days. The way they laughed about their crazy teacher between classes. Just knowing that he was only a friend, and not nearly as close of a friend as Duncan was, hurt him a little.

It hurt even more seeing the way she screamed and clinged to his arm. And now, as he tried to get closer to her and make up for his failure to win her over as the guy she turned to when she was in need, he only ended up pushing her further away. It felt like no matter what he said and did all day, he was pushing her further and further away. He needed some time alone to think about what he wanted from his friend, and what she wanted from either of them.

“Let's go together, Jess! We can do a duet!” Duncan was full of adrenaline.

Seeing how excited he was for the idea, Jessie reluctantly agreed.

“Alright but nothing too sappy now.”

She got up and they both went to the stage and after entering their selection on the computer, the music began. They wailed at each other to the tune, both of them getting into it and acting on stage like they were putting on a concert together. Duncan posed to do a sick riff on his air-guitar and Jessie used her free hand to emote like she was pouring her heart into every word. Their inhibitions were thrown right out the window the second they hit those mics.

Eric sighed at the happiness and the clear compatibility between the two. Being around Duncan, Jessie seemed so free. Her shyness that he found so adorable was nowhere to be found. Seeing them both so happy, sharing such a bond while he was left out and ignored, was really beginning to make him upset and by the end of the song, he was practically fuming.

“Well? How'd we do?” Jessie panted as she left the stage, cheeks rosy and flushed and her smile beaming across her face.

“Did our captive audience have an epic rock show or what?” Duncan added.

“Yeah, you were fine. Great together, even. You make a cute couple.” Eric didn't even look them in the face as he spat the sass. He just sat there, pissed off, with his arms crossed and looking down at the couch.

“Y-you do?” Duncan quietly muttered but Jessie overpowered his weak voice.

“A couple?! We're both guys! What'd you mean by that?” she interrogated, flustered by the accusation. 'Don't call me a girl in front of Duncan! You know better than that!' she thought.

“I'm just saying you two have a lot of good chemistry going on. Maybe you should go get a room together. Oh wait, you already have one.” The sass was strong with this one.

“So what if we do?” Duncan asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms.

“So what?! I've seen the way you guys are at school. I saw that act on the gym day last week. She practically looked like your little lovey-dovey girlfriend, clinging onto you like that. Why am I even here? I'm just a third wheel.”

ERIC! I'm NOT a girl, damnit!”

“Oh stop already Jessie, he knows.”

Jessie froze, eyes wide with fear, and slowly turned to face Duncan.

“He's only been so nice to you because he wants to get with you. I'm seriously worried about your chastity, rooming with a guy like that.”

“You... you knew?” she quietly asked Duncan. He shied away in shame.

“Yeah... I know you're really a girl...”

“When...” she trailed off.

“Sorry?”

WHEN?! When did you find out? How long have you known?”

“I uh... I accidentally saw you in the shower on the day we moved in together.”

“See? Told you he was just trying to sleep with you.”

Jessie ignored Eric's comment.

“No! I didn't do it on purpos--”

“THIS WHOLE TIME?! You saw me in the shower?! You saw me naked?! What the hell!”

“J-just your chest, I swear. Nothing else.”

“I can't believe this! Is that why you saved me from those thugs? Because you wanted to save the 'damsel in distress' so I'd like you?!”

“No! I would have done the same for anyone, it had nothing to do with liking you, honest!”

“Oh so you are interested in me? I'm a guy! I'm not about to date another guy!”

“Well what about Eric?! He's practically in love with you!” Daniel screamed, trying to take the heat off himself.

Jessie flipped around to face Eric with an expression of betrayal and just a hint of pure rage.

“You're in LOVE with me?! So that's what you two have been fighting over behind my back all day. You're fighting over who gets the goodnight kiss!! I can't believe you two!”

The boys were astonished to find that Jessie wasn't as oblivious to her situation as they thought. Then they realized that she'd been ignoring it on purpose, hoping against hope that her intuition was wrong, and the guilt laid on even thicker in their minds.

“Hey, I've done my best to protect your secret! I don't know why you think you ever passed for a boy but I've played into your little fantasy and this is the thanks I get? He just wants to get into your pants, at least I respect you!”

Jessie was taken aback by the sudden snap from the usually docile boy. Playing into her fantasy? She never really passed for a boy?

“Is that why you called me cute? To try and win me back because I grabbed onto Duncan when I was scared? You're no better than he is!”

“That's a lie! I was serious when I said that! Yeah, I might have been a bit jealous, but I'm serious. I like you and I want to go out with you.”

Jessie's jaw dropped and Duncan's eyes widened at the sudden confession. Duncan was not going to back down.

“I'll never let you date her. I'm closer to her than you'll ever be! Why would she date a pathetic loser with no personality like you? Just because you complimented her? Get back in the friend zone and let her be with someone she deserves.”

“I... I can't believe this is happening. I thought I was your friend, not just an object of desire. I trusted you.”

“You can still trust me! I'm still your friend! I just want to be more than that because I... I love you!”

Jessie stood shocked at Eric's last-ditch effort to win her over. Even after all of this, he still thinks he can get with her just like that? It was enough to make Jessie vomit in her brain.

“I... I need to go for a walk to clear my head.”

“Let me grab my coat, I'll go with you,” Duncan offered, but Jessie turned and glared at him.

“You're NOT my friends! You're despicable, the both of you! I don't want you following me around anymore!” she growled.

“But it's dark out and there's so many people, something bad could happen to you out there.”

“Oh so you want to play the hero again and save the weak defenseless little girl to win you brownie points? Get off your high horse. I don't want anything to do with you anymore. Either of you.”

“But Jessie...” Eric whined.

“Piss off.”

Jessie stormed out of the room, nearly slamming the padded door.

“Well... we blew it,” Eric said after a moment of silence, cutting the thick tension.

You blew it,” Duncan replied.

They were about to discuss what to do next when there was a sudden rap at the door. Both of the boys jumped for it, hoping Jessie had changed her mind, but it was just the waitress holding a slip of paper on a clipboard.

“Your hour's nearly up so I've come by to give you your tab. Would you like to pay now or when you leave?” She cheerily asked.

“Jessie was going to pay for the food...” Duncan quietly said to Eric.

The waitress' smile never left.

“Oh crap...” Eric muttered under his breath.

Jessie fumed past the crowds, not caring if she hit random people as she went by. 'The nerve of them! I'm a GUY! There's no way I'd ever have feelings for another guy! Especially not them. I thought they actually liked hanging out with me. I thought I'd actually made some real guy friends, and at my new school no less, and in the end they just wanted me to fulfill their sick desires.' She couldn't control her inner monologue, but it was better than screaming her lungs out in a big crowded space. 'I'm so disappointed in them, especially Eric. Men are horrible! They only have one-track minds. I never want to see another guy again!'

She'd just made her way out of the populated Towne Stroll area when she heard a scream coming from the nearby park. Her heart sank as her mind flashed with images of her muggers several weeks ago. 'Oh no, please no...' she thought. She ran towards the voice and soon found a small group of boys huddled around a girl in the park, just out of view from the street.

“Come on, just one drink with us. We'll make sure you have a good time, right fellas?” The first guy laughed and looked over to his cronies who joined him after he gave them a scary smirk.

The laughter quickly died from the cronies when they saw their friend fall silent, staring past them with a quizzical expression. The other two turned, along with the shaking girl clutching her instrument case, to see a brown and white blur running towards them.

“Wh-what is that?” one of the guys said.

“I have no idea... wait, is that person saying something?” the other replied.

“LEAVE HER ALONE YOU PIGS!!” Jessie screamed as she ran into him, diving straight into his gut with her head and knocking him on his ass. He was left clutching his gut in pain.

“'tha fuck are you, kid? You wanna have some fun with us too?”

“I said leave her ALONE!”

In one swift motion, Jessie kicked the closest guy right between the legs with all of her might and while he was hunched over screaming, she braced herself in a stance and used her leverage to bring her knee flying right into his jaw.

“Two down, one to go.”

“You don't mess around, do ya missy?” the leader said, cracking his knuckles. “Alright then, if you think you're a big shot, let's see what you've got.”

Jessie's heart was pounding but she was in no mood to put up with this bullshit right now. She watched him carefully as he pulled out a knife and darted at her. She ducked under, using the trick Duncan taught her, and grabbed the man's arm from underneath and in one smooth motion, she used his own momentum to flip him over right onto his defeated ally. The knife he was holding had flipped into the air and come down fast, embedding itself in the soil mere inches from the man's surprised face.

“Get out of here before I call the cops.”

The man sneered but Jessie stood her ground and didn't flinch. He studied her for a moment but ultimately decided that he didn't want to handle that threat if she wasn't bluffing.

“C'mon, boys. These chicks ain't worth it.” They struggled to rise to their feet and were quick to round the corner, no doubt hoping to escape into the crowd near Towne Stroll to make it harder on the authorities.

Jessie stood resolute, heart pounding furiously with anxiety, glaring at them as they ran. She wasn't broken out of the spell until a soft English voice called her name.

“J-Jessie? Is that you?”

She turned back to the scared girl to find Rachel sitting on the bench, shaking and clutching onto a large instrument case. She was flustered, for sure, but was clearly happy and surprised to be saved by a familiar face. Jessie walked up to her and held out her hand.

“Are you alright? Can you walk?”

Rachel's eyes glossed over at the cool image of Jessie reaching out for her. Her heart pounded and with a nod, she took Jessie's hand, finding it softer than she'd imagined, and rose to her feet.

“Th-thank you... I was on my way to meet my brother and those guys just came up, a-and...”

Rachel was still shaking from the scene, but Jessie put a hand on her shoulder and the shaking slowed to a stop.

“It's alright, you're safe now. If anyone tries to mess with you again, they'll have to answer to me, ok?”

Jessie's confidence struck Rachel. She never expected that the little pipsqueak had it in her, but then she remembered her theory from before. 'So I guess sh-,he really IS a guy afterall...' she decided.

“Thank you. Really.”

“What do you have there, anyway?” Jessie asked, pointing to the large hard plastic case. It stood a few feet long and never left Rachel's grip.

Rachel set it on the ground and opened it to show her. “It's my guitar. My brother and I like to practice together and I'm late for our weekly session. At first I thought those thugs were going to steal it but then they started talking like they wanted... me instead.” She choked back a shudder.

Jessie, catching on to this, tried to keep her focus on a lighter subject to help calm her nerves. “Oh, I had no idea you played! Here, I'll walk you to wherever it is you're going.”

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Rachel asked, packing up and leading the way.

Jessie frowned, remembering the argument from just a few minutes ago.

“I uh... I went to the amusement park with some friends and something happened so I decided to go home.”

“Did you get into a fight? Was it bad?” Rachel asked with concern.

“Pretty bad,” Jessie sighed. “I don't think I can face them again.”

Rachel immediately jumped to the conclusion that Jessie's obviously female companions had discovered that she was really a boy. 'Should I ask him why he does it? I mean... he's not a bad person,' she contemplated. 'I've never seen him stare at the girls in the locker room. And after saving me like that, he was even... kinda cool.'

“Care to talk about it?” she ventured, hoping to confirm her suspicions.

“Not really. The wounds are still too fresh.”

“No matter, then.” They walked for a few minutes in silence, an awkward tension building between them. “So uh... are you seeing anyone right now? Got a boyfriend?” Rachel queried, trying to chance the subject matter and find casual conversation. She had no idea that she was striking a nerve.

“For the last time I am NOT into GUYS!!” Jessie shouted, not particularly at Rachel.

“Oooooor a girlfriend. Just asking. It's no big deal if you're into girls.”

Rachel let out a sigh of relief. 'Well that's interesting... so he's straight yet pretends to be a girl for gym class. I suppose he is rather feminine, but still... I wouldn't mind going out with him, I suppose... he's pretty cute afterall, and way stronger than he looks...'

“No. I'm not seeing anyone right now. Can we talk about something else, please?” Jessie seethed.

“Yes of course, sorry.”

The subject jumped from topic to topic as they made their way into the crowded street, weaving through the mass of people until Jessie somehow found herself back in the lobby of the karaoke parlor.

“Wait, what? What are we doing here? I thought we were going to meet your brother.”

“We are, this is where we practise. We live just down the street so sometimes we come here to play along with the music to test our ability to keep up. We still call it practise, but it's really just for fun.”

“That's actually pretty clever now that I think about it. Sounds fun, too. The owners of this place are cool with you doing that?”

Rachel opened her mouth to reply but it was another voice that answered Jessie.

“Yup! We have an agreement with them. Sometimes we play instead of the music for small singing groups, too.”

Rachel turned with a smile towards the origin of the voice. Jessie turned to look behind her to find a familiar tall blue-eyed boy standing over her shoulders.

“We've been looking for someone to sing along with us for a while now, just when we play together. The voice is an instrument too, afterall. It's got to go with everything else.”

Jessie gaped at the face looking down at her with a sudden anxiety as she realized who it was.

“Good to see you again, Jessica. It's been a while.” Daniel smiled down at the flustered little girl.

“D-daniel! Hi! What, ah, what are you doing here?” she forced out through her surprise, especially at how close he was standing. She knew she'd recognized the accent from somewhere, but to think it was him.

“Jessie, this is my brother. You two know each other?” Rachel asked, a bit surprised at Jessie's reaction.

“Yeah, we may have sort of... bumped into each other when I was practising on the grand piano one day. What were you running from, anyway?” His smooth voice, gentlemanly accent, and bright blue eyes seemed to penetrate her soul.

“I-it was nothing. Just playing around with the girls. You know how crazy the girls' school can be, Right? Heh...” Jessie tried her best to improvise.

“No matter, no matter. YOU, dear sister, are late. Would you like to join us, Jessica? There's plenty of room and it's already paid for. You'd only have to pay for any drinks or snacks you want.”

Jessie thought it over and ultimately decided that maybe it was a good idea to get to know the Grahams a little better. If anything, having some actual fun at the karaoke parlor might make up for her rotten experience earlier. She didn't want the whole day to be ruined by those morons.

“Sure, I'd love to.”

They began making their way down the hall when Eric and Duncan spotted her. After a few phone calls, they'd managed to pay the tab Jessie ran up and were just on their way out when they saw her being guided into another room by Daniel, of all people.

“I can't believe it. After all that fuss about not wanting to be with a guy, she goes off with that limey asshole,” Duncan sneered.

“We lost. To him. This day can't get any worse.”

Jessie entered the room to find an electric keyboard propped up and jacked into the computer system below the monitor on the stage, a bigger stage than the one in the room before. It was wide enough to accommodate several instruments and people at once. No doubt it was a show room for large parties.

“So what you guys do is like karaoke, but with instruments instead of singing. That's pretty cool.” she mused.

“Precisely, and we could really use a singer to help round the sound out. Feels kind of wrong to be using a karaoke booth without someone singing, don't you think?” Rachel said as she plugged her guitar in.

“Yeah, I guess it does,” Jessie agreed, letting out a light chuckle that was joined by Daniel.

“Let's say we get this party started. Jessica, why don't you pick any song from this list you'd like,” he offered, handing her a sheet of paper with about twenty songs on it.

It only took a moment before Jessie decided on one of her favorites.

“Alright, hit the stage. Rachel, you ready?” he called.

“Yup, all tuned and ready to rock.” She played a quick little riff to show off her skills, ending with a cool wham.

Jessie was in for a real treat. “This is almost like being in a real band!”

The lights dimmed and turned red, one by one, aiming at the singer center-stage. As she started singing of her lost love, the keyboard gentle crescendoed in and after another verse, they were joined by Rachel's guitar. The song grew fuller and fuller as the pace raced up until it finally hit the climax and all three were jamming out as hard as they could.

After a few songs and a lot of winded panting from the girls, Rachel offered to go get some drinks.

“Sounds good, I feel like I'm going hoarse after that,” Jessie smiled at the offer, trying to catch her breath.

Rachel wandered off after taking some money from her bandmates, but she couldn't get the sound of Jessie's perfectly girly singing voice out of her head. 'Wow, he has a really beautiful singing voice. No wonder everyone thinks he's a girl.' she thought, taking her time heading to the bar. 'Maybe he's one of those trans-jenner people I keep hearing about on TV? So would that make him a lesbian? Either way, I want to find out more about him. I have to figure out what his story is. Maybe I can ask him to the Halloween Ball...'

Meanwhile, back in their room, Jessie and Daniel had taken a breather on the couch and were struggling to come up with conversation. Jessie was nervous about being alone with Daniel, chiding herself for coming up with 'Jessica' as her cover, but she was glad to see him nonetheless. She had a great time when they last met.

“You really have a beautiful voice, you know. Have you ever thought about joining the school's choir? You'd do well there, with a little instruction,” He asked with his soothing voice.

“What? No, never. It can't be that good, can it?” Jessie flushed. 'Why does everyone compliment my singing voice? Is it really that good, or are these guys just trying to be nice because I'm a girl?' she thought to herself, trying to figure out the origin of the repeated compliments.

“I was amazed by it before when you joined me at the piano, but hearing you now, actually singing something so passionately, I just... It's a wonder you're so shy.”

For some reason, the way he said that made Jessie blush. It didn't help that Daniel was sitting sideways on the couch, facing her with one arm propped on the backrest, just slightly too close for comfort.

“Th-thanks... I feel guilty accepting praise for something that just kinda happens though. It's not like I put a lot of effort into it or anything.”

“It's just a special talent of yours, I suppose.”

“Yeah...”

An awkward tension seemed to build as the conversation stagnated, to the point that Jessie couldn't look Daniel in the eye without making her embarrassment worse. She just didn't know how to accept such praise. 'Where's Rachel with those drinks already?' she thought.

Moments passed until Daniel finally found the courage to get something off his chest that'd been plaguing him for over a month now.

“Jessica, I...” he started but faltered when she turned to look him in the eye. It took him a moment and seeing that adorable face to regain his courage. “Jessica... do you want to maybe... go out with me sometime?”

The question was enough to cause Jessie to spit-take but she didn't have a drink in hand.

“E-excuse me?” she panicked.

“I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since we last met and I don't want to lose you again. You're just so... beautiful and charming and you have the voice of an angel. It would be an honor to take you on a date sometime.”

Jessie's heart was pounding like mad but her anger was boiling to the surface. 'Why is everyone after me today?! What did I do to deserve this?!'

“I-I can't! I couldn't do something like that! I'm flattered, really, but I-I just don't think--”

“Don't think.”

Daniel cut off her erratic denial by pulling her lips to his in a very passionate kiss. Jessie froze from the shock, losing her senses and control of her body when his arms wrapped around her waist. His lips firmly pressed into hers. She let out a muffled little squeak and a moment later, he pulled away to see her staring off into the distance.

“Well? Will you have me?” He asked, gently as he could, but afraid of the response.

Jessie was still frozen in place. She had no idea how to comprehend what had just happened. 'Was that...? That was my first kiss... and it went to a guy...' Her brain acted like clockwork trying to piece it together. 'He just kissed me. A man just kissed me. A male man. A handsome male man- wait, NOT handsome! Just some guy from school! Ogawd some guy from school just kissed me. I can't let this get out, I'd be a laughing stock...'

“I'm sorry, was that too forward?” Daniel was begging to worry when Jessie didn't respond. “Please, just... say something.”

Jessie was finally snapped out of her thoughts and back to reality when the door swung open with a smiley Rachel carrying a tray of sodas.

“Yoo-hoo~, I'm back! Don't tell me you two had fun without me now~!”

Jessie mechanically turned up to see Rachel and, more importantly, the door.

“I-- sorry, I should go. I should get home. It's late,” she stuttered.

“But we only just got started!”

“I have to go. I'll see you at school.”

“Jessie, wait!” but it was too late, she was already out the door. Rachel whipped around the glare at her brother. “What did you do to her?! Did you two get in a fight??”

“Eh, not exactly...” Daniel shied away, rubbing the back of his head.

“I'm going after her. You wait here and think about what you've done. Jessie is a friend of mine and I won't have you pushing her away!”

Rachel grabbed her coat and ran out the door after Jessie. She finally caught up with her just as she made her way out of the shopping district.

“Jessie, wait! Please!!” Rachel panted. 'I can't let him leave without asking him... oh, I hope Daniel didn't ruin this for me!' she worried.

Jessie sighed and with her head hung low, she finally stopped running.

“Please Jessie... what's wrong? You don't have to leave because of whatever my idiot brother said,” Rachel pleaded. She didn't want Jessie to leave so soon, not after just getting to know 'him' a little better.

“It's not that. I just really have to go. You should get back.” The tone in her voice pushed Rachel away. Jessie clearly wanted to be left alone.

“...alright. I wanted to let you know, though, that what you did for me earlier was... really cool. I really appreciate it. Maybe we could... hang out sometime and you could show me how to do that cool Judo flip. Would that be alright?” she ventured.

Jessie couldn't see the harm in it. She may not have wanted to be around Daniel, but it wouldn't hurt to have another friend. Especially a girl who thought she was a girl. 'At least I don't have to worry about her trying to get into my pants.'

“I suppose so, as long as your brother's not there,” she finally replied.

“Great, then it's a date! Just us. And hey...” she said in a giddy tone.

“Hmm?--!”

Rachel moved in and put her hands on Jessie's cheeks, pulling her in close for a light but sweet kiss. A much different kiss from Daniel's. Softer lips with a sweeter taste had Jessie nearly melting at their touch. After a moment, their lips parted and Rachel shyly put her hands behind her back.

“That's a thank you. For saving me earlier, I mean. I just... let's keep this a secret to everyone, ok? Bye!” Flustered and embarrassed, Rachel turned and ran back to the makeshift studio. 'I did it! I kissed him! I can't believe I did it! But wait, what if he tells someone at school? Since they all think he's a girl, wouldn't they think we're gay? Should I even be worried about that?' Her heart was pounding with adrenaline and her rosy cheeks and bright smile just wouldn't go away.

Jessie was left standing there under the street lamp, with her fingers gingerly touching her lips. She could still feel the tingle and sweet cherry chapstick taste of Rachel's lips. “She... she kissed me. But there wasn't the same feeling like with Daniel... her lips were... softer... but she only knows me as a girl. Is she gay for me? But I am a girl now... would that be ok for me to do?”

Jessie's mind ran a mile a minute with possibilities and ideas about her possible sexuality. What did that kiss mean? Since she kissed a girl, does that negate being kissed by a boy? 'But his kiss wasn't so bad either, it was just... more warm... but does that mean I liked it more? No way, I can't! I liked Rachel's kiss more, right? I had to have...'

She was more confused than ever about her position in life, but was snapped out of her worries by a sudden vibration in her pocket. She jumped and pulled out her phone to find her savior calling at the most convenient time.

“Hey mom... yeah, I'm fine. Listen, can you come pick me up?”
Let The Shipping Begin. Took long enough to get to this point, eh?

So now that this is done, let's talk Chapter 8. I've been told by some readers that they find the story a bit triggering at times, particularly in gendery bendery parts for some reason, so that's apparently a thing. That aside, I know there's legitimate triggering parts, like the scene at the end of 6 for example. I try to screen those moments with the few readers who have that problem.

That said, Chapter 8 is going to be very triggering for some readers. I know a few of my readers are trans folk, who likely found this because I wrote that fanfic for the Rain webcomic, and [SPOILERS] ch8 deals with Jessie's gender identity struggle a fair bit, so there may be some parts that those readers may find hard to swallow. I promise not to do anything harsh, but know that it's there. [/SPOILERS].

Because of that, 8's not going to be nearly as long (I hope). I'm in the planning stages of Chapter 9 as well and that's shaping up to be slightly shorter, and I'm toying with the idea of having it be first-person from a new character's point of view. This whole series is basically a writing exercise for me anyway, so if I can make that work, I'll be pretty happy with it.

As always, you can find Jessie on my personal website, www.thelostmd.com, where it's properly formatted. Sometimes DA screws with the formatting a bit. There's actually a cut scene from this chapter that I may flesh out and throw on my website, so keep an eye out for that. You can also find me on twitter @ClaerisBaeris where you'll find the occasional update about chapter progress and a lot of other silly things.

I also have a new game blog at www.TheAvalancheRebels.com and I'm looking for writers to contribute. If you're into games, gaming, gaming culture, or just collecting or something, take a look and if you like it and want to contribute, send me a message either on here or in the comments on the site or on twitter or something. I'd appreciate any help on it! The idea is to have several writers posting the occasional content when they can.

Now that that's all out of the way, let me know what you think of the chapter! I put a lot of work into this one and hopefully it turned out pretty well. I haven't started writing 8 yet but since it's a lot shorter in scope, it shouldn't be nearly as long to get it out as it was to get this done. Enjoy!
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:iconaust-kyzor:
Aust-Kyzor Featured By Owner May 29, 2015
Well, I'm one of your trans readers (to be precise, I'm genderfluid), and I identify a LOT with Jessie, so I think you done good here with this story. And not just because of all the Genderbending (the most taboo of bending after Bloodbending) - the entire time in the park, Jessie was me

That said, dangit Duncan and Eric, you fucked up. You fucked up.

You also fucked up Daniel.

Rachel probably also fucked up. Everybody in this story fucks up with Jessie is involved. That said, I'm cheering for Rachel in this shipping war <3
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:iconclairedelune2501:
clairedelune2501 Featured By Owner May 30, 2015   Writer
well at least you'll have something to look forward to in 8, at least haha. It's angsty as hell as Jessie struggles with her identity, but she DOES make a move on Rachel to try and 'prove' her masculinity. I haven't exactly decided if I should have Rachel find out in 8 or later. There's also the possibility of having Jessie temporarily return to being a boy in Chapter 11 or so. Thoughts on that? And as always, thanks for reading!
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:iconaust-kyzor:
Aust-Kyzor Featured By Owner May 30, 2015
I'll be honest - I think Jessie should have the power to change her bits at will, so he can be whatever gender she wants to be
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:iconclairedelune2501:
clairedelune2501 Featured By Owner May 30, 2015   Writer
Sorry to say, that's not in the cards. The whole point of jessie's original wish turning 'him' into a girl is that she eventually learns that she's better off as a person that way. I don't think I've built that up well enough, at least not yet, but it's been decided from before the project started that she'd eventually 'transition' and be better for it.
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:iconaust-kyzor:
Aust-Kyzor Featured By Owner May 31, 2015
I actually like that better.


Still not going to stop me from wishing I could change a pole into a hole and vice-versa at will
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